New Delhi: Behaving in a “capricious” and “irrational” fashion, Sonia Gandhi once forced Zambia’s senior leader Kenneth Kaunda to shift out of a New Delhi hotel whose owner had fallen from her grace, K. Natwar Singh, a former Congress leader and foreign minister, now says.
Kaunda, one of Africa’s most respected leaders who had been his country’s president, had checked into Lalit Suri’s hotel on Barakhamba Road in the capital for a 1997 conference on 50 years of India’s independence.
When Gandhi realized he was staying in Suri’s hotel, “she was incensed and asked me to meet Kaunda and request him to shift to the Oberoi”, Natwar Singh says in his biography, “One Life is Not Enough” (Rupa).
“It was a manifestly unreasonable demand. I had known Kaunda for many years but my errand was a painful one.
“When I told him about this, he said he had settled down, and after a long flight, needed rest.”
Natwar Singh conveyed Kaunda’s message to Gandhi, who “asked me to go back to Kaunda and ask him to shift to the Oberoi… I told her she was being irrational”.
Natwar Singh points out that Kaunda was 22 years older that Sonia Gandhi. “Indira Gandhi and Rajiv would never had behaved in such an insensitive manner.
“On hearing her second message, Kaunda said that this would put him in an embarrassing position. ‘What do I tell Suri?’ he asked.
“Kaunda could observe my discomfiture. I told him there had been a falling out. Kaunda agreed to shift after apologizing to Suri.
“Sonia was deliberately capricious. It was unbecoming of her. The Kaunda incident left a bad taste in the mouth.”
Suri, who was once close to the Congress establishment, has since died and his wife, Jyotsna, runs the Lalit Group of luxury hotels in his name.