In the wake of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death at 87 on Monday, the world has weighed in on her contentious legacy. While the debate rages over her no-nonsense approach to politics, a few have turned their attention in a more peculiar direction, dredging up a fascinating incident she preferred to keep under wraps: her clandestine meetings in 1975 with Indian mystic Sri Chandraswamy.
Soon after taking the reins as leader of the Tory opposition party, the Iron Lady did something very out of step with her public persona, organizing a meeting with the “godman” at her Commons office. A hesitant Shri Natwar Singh, who was then India’s Deputy High Commissioner and later served as Foreign Minister, fell into the role of Hindi-English translator.
After requesting a meeting on behalf of Chandraswamy, Thatcher reluctantly agreed to see him for ten minutes. When Singh delivered the news to the holy man, he was ecstatic. En route to the House of Commons, Singh wrote in his book Walking with Lions — Tales from a Diplomatic Past that a visibly excited Chandraswamy “banged the staff (he was holding) on the road till I told him to stop doing so.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Once inside Thatcher’s office, the juxtaposition bordered on the absurd. The bearded “godman” – kitted out in sadhu garb, rudraksha malas draped around his neck, sporting a prominent tilak on his forehead and holding a staff in his right hand – sat across from the future Prime Minister, barefoot, in a lotus position on a sofa.
Handing the pragmatic Thatcher five strips of paper, Chandraswamy told her to write a question on each one. Crumpling them into balls, Chandraswamy went into a trance. When he emerged, he corrected guessed what each question was on each piece of paper.
By the time he correctly guessed the fourth question, Singh said that Thatcher was warming to the swami’s alleged powers.
“I was appalled. Mrs Thatcher seemed to approve,” Singh wrote. “She asked supplementary questions. In each case Chandraswamy’s response almost overwhelmed the future Prime Minister. She was on the verge of another supplementary, when Chandraswamy regally announced that the sun had set. No more questions.”
Rather than let it drop at that, Thatcher surprised Singh by asking for another meeting. After directing a barrage of questions to the guru, Thatcher warmed to him to the point that she followed his instructions to wear a red poshak (dress) and a tattered talisman around her wrist to their second meeting.
Thatcher was not the first to be entranced by the faith healer’s abilities. Chandraswamy also advised Nancy Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, controversial Saudi mogul Adnan Khashoggi and even the Sultan of Brunei.
At least in Thatcher’s case, it would seem the adulation was justified. When she arrived at Singh’s home for her second session with the guru – red dress, talisman on wrist – Chandraswamy delivered the goods.
“She asked many questions but the most important related to the chances of her becoming Prime Minister,” Singh wrote.
Allowing for some wiggle room, Chandraswamy predicted that Thatcher would become PM within three or four years and then serve in the role for nine, 11 or 13 years. “He was proved right,” Singh added. “She was PM for eleven years.”
In 1979, after Thatcher had indeed become PM, Singh mentioned Chandraswamy’s predictions to her during the 1979 Commonwealth Summit in Zambia. In response, Thatcher took him aside and said, “High Commissioner, we don’t talk about these matters.”