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Posted at: Jan 8, 2017, 12:41 AM; last updated: Jan 8, 2017, 1:38 AM (IST)AS I PLEASE

The unforgettable: Sir Don, Mandela & Queen

By K. Natwar Singh
I have chosen to write about Bradman at some length because a gentleman's game is being discredited by men who treated the BCCI as their personal private jagir
For several decades, three non-Indians that I admired most were Sir Donald Bradman, the greatest cricketer of all time, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the hero of Dien Bien Phu 1954, and Nelson Mandela. Dien Bien Phu was one of the decisive battles of the 20th century. General Giap put an end to the French in Indo-China.

I met all three: Bradman, once in Sydney; General Giap thrice (once in Delhi and twice in Vietnam); and Nelson Mandela several times, in New Delhi and New York. Bradman died aged 92, Giap 105 and Mandela 95.

In 1989 I took a letter from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke, who was a rough character and a womanizer of repute. I met him in his office in Canberra. The meeting did not go well. Mr. Hawke was at his bullying best. Without being rude, not so gently, I made it clear to him that an Indian Minister of State was not be treated in a discourteous way. "I should make that clear to you, Mr Prime Minister."

In the afternoon the coin fell in Hawke's favour. I learnt that he was flying to Sydney to attend a dinner in Honour of Sir Don. All Australian airlines were on strike. I did not look forward to a second road journey in twenty-four hours. I asked joint secretary Buddhiraja to enquire from one of Hawke's staff if he could give me a lift (for once I swallowed my pride).

Prime Minister Hawke agreed. In the plane I was allotted a seat facing him. It was an awkward situation for both. Suddenly he said: "Minister, why don't you join me for the Bradman dinner?" I thanked him, asking him to excuse me as I was not properly dressed for a Black Tie dinner. On arrival at Sydney, we were driven to the venue for the dinner. The PM's guests were waiting for him in a lounge. I followed. He was a man an inch taller than me — none other than Sir Donald Bradman and his wife. Hawke introduced me. The great man shook hands and said, "I met a young minister from India a few months ago. I forget his name. He was interested in cricket." "Sir Don, his name is Scindia."

I have chosen to write about Bradman at some length, because a great gentleman's game is being discredited by men who treated the BCCI as their personal private jagir. With a few exceptions, these office holders of the BCCI have been rightly reprimanded by the Supreme Court and Justice Lodha for their misdemeanours. They deserve it. Some of them lived like maharajas and travelled like nawabs. One of them does not know the difference between the bat and ball. I am a cricket buff; I read books by eminent cricketers, and watch Test matches on TV. This is one of the pleasures of old age.

I am neither a monarchist not a marxist. I do, nevertheless, have a soft corner for Queen Elizabeth II. She has been ill for the last three weeks and not been seen in public. Why do I do so? Here are some facts. She was born in 1926 (the same year as Fidel Castro). She would not have been the Queen if her father's elder brother, Edward the VIII, had not renounced the throne to marry the twice-divorced Mrs Simpson. Her father would not have become the King. He was a gentleman King. He died at the age of 56 in 1952. His elder daughter Elizabeth succeeded him. 

Two major monarchies have survived: one in Japan and the other in the UK. The Japanese monarchy goes back to 2,000 years. 

When Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne, Obama, Holland, Putin and Modi had not been born. Neither were Mrs Merkel and Mrs May. Fourteen Prime Ministers from Churchill to May have served her.

India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, Burma in 1948 and Sri Lanka in 1949. Even without them the British Empire still extended from London to Fiji in the Pacific. It gradually shrank. Today it is confined to a few islands. The Queen's dignity is exceptional. Her capacity to connect with the common man is noteworthy. She works hard and takes her duties seriously. In 65 years of her reign, not a single scandal has touched her. She is a slow burn. Her husband is not. As much as 25% of Britons are against the monarchy. Britain remains a monarch, chiefly because the Queen's popularity is very high. This is not so with rest of the royals. Most are semi-literate. 

She has been to India several times. During the 1983 Commonwealth Summit, I came in contact with her, both directly and indirectly. Mrs Indira Gandhi heard a rumour that the Queen was to have an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhawan to give Mother Teresa the Order of Merit — the highest civilian award the Queen could bestow. The PM asked to discreetly find out if the rumour was true. It was.

It fell to me as chief co-ordinator to make sure that the Queen did not have the investiture at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Only the President of India could do so. Mrs Margaret Thatcher dragged her feet — the Queen would be inconvenienced if the venue was changed, etc etc. I had it conveyed to her that the Queen was not Queen of India. After delicate, secret discussions, the British were told that no investiture could be held at Rashtrapati Bhawan. They were also told that such a decision by the Queen's staff without informing us was totally unacceptable. 

No investiture was held. The Queen gave the Mother the Order of Merit in the garden of Rashtapati Bhawan over tea.

I once asked Indira Gandhi, "Madam, if you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you ask for?" "The Oxford Dictionary", she replied. Touché. 


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