“The do so. And neither did bureaucrats like

“The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and
Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” by Sanjaya Baru, published in 2014, is an
account of former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s two terms in
office. Sanjaya Baru was appointed as ‘Media Adviser’ to Dr. Manmohan Singh during his first term in UPA – 1 from
2004 to 2009. He has mainly touched upon this time period. This book is in the
form of a political memoir and its
narrative follows a chronological format, painting a picture of Dr. Singh’s
terms in UPA 1 and UPA 2. 

 

In the introduction to his book, Baru proclaims that none of
his predecessors at the Prime Minister’s office ever wrote a full book on his
experiences during his tenure. Editors as famous as B G Verghese, Kuldip Nayar,
H K Dua and Prem Shankar Jha chose not to do so. And neither did bureaucrats
like G Parthasarathi, Ram Mohan Rao and PVR. K. Prasad. Some columns or
articles were written by some of the aforementioned, but not a comprehensive
account.

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Baru himself had no plans of ever penning his experiences in
the PMO, but was persuaded by Chiki Sarkar and Kamini Mahadevan of Penguin
Books, especially when the descent of Dr. Manmohan Singh in the people’s eyes
into an object of ridicule during his second term as Prime Minister saddened
him greatly. He felt that a leader should either be loved or hated, not
ridiculed and mocked.

 

Sanjaya Baru’s account starts from when he became the Media
Adviser to the then – Prime Minister in 2004, and gives insider information on
the landmark events, political workings, bureaucracy and achievements in the
PMO with the prime focus on Dr. Manmohan Singh. The author valiantly tries to
portray Dr Manmohan Singh in a positive light, belying the actual events taking
place and the subsequent media portrayal of these.

 

The book portrays
the rise and fall of Dr. Manmohan Singh from a reluctant economist – turned –
prime minister to a puppet-like character dancing to the tunes of the then – UPA
chief Sonia Gandhi. Along with insights into
the internal politics in the cabinet, the functioning of bureaucrats, prime
achievements of the UPA 1 government, it also shows us the work methods of
Media Advisers and the so-called Spin
Doctors. Through
oblique references to people and situations, there is enough material for the
reader to judge the then Prime Minister’s efficiency and integrity.

At the time of its release, in 2014, “The
Accidental Prime Minister” was closely scrutinized by the then
– media primarily because it revealed many fascinating things about the power
equation / struggle between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh. Keen interest
in this book also arose since it was released during the time of elections. While
the ruling Congress Party scrambled to deny the veracity of the book’s
contents, the Opposition indulged in gleeful government – bashing. Dr. Manmohan
Singh’s daughter Upinder Singh
herself denounced the book, calling it “nothing but a stab in the back… a huge
betrayal of trust”.

I started reading with some preconceived notions
in my head about the non – performing image of Dr.
Manmohan Singh as a man who
rightly deserved the ridicule he aroused in the general population’s minds. I
was particularly curious at the reactions of his family.

 

Instead I found
that Sanjaya Baru, far from showing the man to be a silent robotic personality,
had held up an image of a Brutus – like tormented tragic hero, with a
tremendous amount of turmoil in his heart.

 

Baru actually
portrays him as an extremely deserving Prime Minister of India who is trapped
in his own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and thus becomes an object of
contempt and gains the notoriety of destroying the magnificent stature of the
office that he held.

 

He defends Dr. Manmohan Singh and it is UPA chief Sonia
Gandhi and her gaggle of yes-men who are shown up in a poor light. The book does not
disparage him in any manner. It tries to
explain plainly the power equation between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh
but does not sensationalize the issue. It only re-affirms what the Indian
public knew to be true.

 

Dr. Manmohan Singh
is shown, regrettably, as a helpless, clueless shadow – puppet of Sonia Gandhi
who almost arouses our sympathies because of his ineffectiveness in functioning
as the Prime Minister of India. This
sad truth was simply being put on record by the primary witness, ie, Sanjaya
Baru, to this political drama.

 

Baru tell us that
Dr Singh was terrified of losing his place in the scheme of things if he did
not kowtow to the High Command, Sonia Gandhi. For Dr. Singh, the Gandhi family
came first, followed by the political party, prime minister’s office and,
lastly, the country.

 

He was anxious of not
getting into Sonia Gandhi’s bad books, and always insisted that on no account
was his importance to be broadcast over and above that of the First Family. He
chastised Baru on one occasion for handing him the credit for a particular
event. He knew that Sonia Gandhi wanted the credit for it to be given to her
son Rahul.

 

Perhaps the
treatment meted out to former Congressmen Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri
forced Dr. Singh to act in this manner. Both these stalwarts had stood their
ground on several issues against Sonia Gandhi and their importance in the
political arena was erased.  Narasimha
Rao was treated as a complete outcast and she refused permission for his last
rites to be performed in the capital, where all past prime ministers of the
country had had their funerals. Sitaram Kesri, the president of the Congress
party before Sonia Gandhi, was literally thrown out of power to make way for
Sonia Gandhi.

 

Another mistake
that Dr Singh made was to think that that no matter what his cabinet did, he himself
would remain with a clean image. This was perhaps his vital failing. A Prime Minister of a democracy
cannot remain submerged in filth and not get mud on his face.

 

Corruption on a
massive scale as is seen in the various scams like the 2G scam, the Coalgate
scam, the spectrum allocation spam, the Commonwealth Games scam and other scams
during that era thrived merrily under his very nose and he remained a silent
bystander. His uprightness and principles did not do the country any good as
his party men carried on the plunder of the nation in various guises.

 

Baru compares him
to Bhishma of the Mahabharata, a principled person fighting for the wrong side.
He remained a silent spectator to Draupadi’s humiliation, as did Dr Singh to
his country’s loot and plunder.

 

Ministers and party
men treated Dr. Manmohan Singh with disdain and sidestepped him whenever
possible. They met and reported directly to Sonia Gandhi instead of the Prime
Minister, thus bypassing the chain of command. For example, Pranab Mukherjee, a
cabinet minister of that era, came back from a foreign trip and did not bother
to update Dr Singh about his trip. Dr Singh apparently felt hurt and humiliated
but could do nothing about it. 

 

In political
circles, it was clearly known that Sonia Gandhi wanted to become the PM or at
least to give the post to a family member, but historical circumstances did not
allow her to do so at the time. Therefore, she picked out Dr. Manmohan Singh, a
receptive, compliant personality. Baru realized quite early on that all
successes were to be attributed to the Gandhi family and all failures and
mistakes to the Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi was in the coveted position of
absolute authority with no responsibility.

 

Sanjaya Baru had
previously worked in Financial Express and Economic Times. He belonged to a cartel
of journalists and other key people like politicians, diplomats, business
leaders and thinkers, etc who had a leaning towards the Congress Party. This
group had fixed and archaic notions about the class of elitists in whose hands
the governance of the country should rest. Any deviation from this fixed notion
was frowned upon and criticized deeply. Newcomers were considered upstarts and
denied entry into this club.

 

Baru refers to the
writings of communist ideologue Mohit Sen, encouraging Sonia Gandhi to take the
mantle of president of the party in the same way that a European lady, Annie
Besant, was the first woman president of the Indian National Congress. This tendency
to place the Nehru – Gandhi family on a pedestal is clearly evident in the
following excerpt of the book:

 

“I assumed that Mohit, as an Indira loyalist, had a
special regard for her heirs. But his opinion that Sonia should enter politics
was also based on his conviction that without a Nehru-Gandhi family member at
the top, the Congress party would splinter and wither away. This view was also
encouraged by members of the Delhi durbar—a ‘power elite’, to use sociologist
C. Wright Mill’s term, comprising civil servants, diplomats, editors,
intellectuals and business leaders who had worked with or been close to the
regimes of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. Some of them inhabited the many trusts and
institutions that the Nehru-Gandhi family controlled. They had all profited in
one way or another, over the years, from their loyalty to the Congress’s ‘first
family”.

 

Baru shows us that
Sonia Gandhi controlled everything. To keep herself in the clear, she
formulated the NAC which imposed welfare schemes upon the UPA government.  It weakened the exchequer and shook up the
economy in a bad way.

 

Perpetuation of
the Nehru – Gandhi dynastic rule was her only objective. Her yes-men were put
in all the powerful positions and no one could question her authority. In the
second term of the UPA, Dr Singh was not even allowed to employ a Media Advisor
of his own choice.

 

The book also tells
us how political intrigue rules over national interests. Truce endeavours between
Dr. Manmohan Singh and General Musharraf were dismissed because Sonia Gandhi
wanted the credit for it to go to her son Rahul and herself. The nuclear deal,
Dr Singh’s singular and monumental achievement which is recounted extensively
in this book, was almost scuttled by the Communists with their own agenda, and
the Congress Party looking to appease the Muslim vote by trying not to appear
close to the USA. In spite of tremendous pressure to cancel it, Manmohan Singh
put his foot down and the deal went through. The government nearly fell.

 

According to Baru,
Manmohan Singh was solely responsible for the UPA’s return to power in 2009. It
was his policies, profound economic insight and deft handling of external
affairs that won the coalition another term, and a fresh lease of life. Sonia
Gandhi stood for total power without any responsibility; Dr Singh stood for
total responsibility without any power. They were two faces of the same tragic
coin.

 

Baru admits that
there are gaps in his narrative because of the lack of some confidential and
crucial inputs. Therefore, this account of the dynamics between Sonia Gandhi
and Dr Manmohan Singh is slightly sketchy.

 

The book is a crisp and engaging read, giving the reader an
inside view of the corridors of power and intrigue in New Delhi’s diplomatic
and governmental circles. It also delves into the methods of working of
Media Advisers. National and international equations are well-explained. And
last, but not least, it gives us a comprehensive insight into the personality
of one of India’s most silent Prime Ministers.

 

However, the more prosaic chapters tend to bore the reader
with the details of various governmental schemes. Also, Baru tries to portray
himself almost as a guide to the Prime Minister, like a Krishna to an Arjun, so
some claims remain unverified and inconclusive, since we, as readers, were not
party to those conversations.

 

Holding up a vivid
picture of a failed hero, he quotes Dr Singh: “He said, ‘I am sorry about what happened. You see, you must understand
one thing. I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of
power. That creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the
centre of power. The government is answerable to the party.'”

 

Perhaps, this book
by Baru is the first ever to give a kinder version of the political truth of
Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Accidental Prime Minister, a man of academic brilliance and moral integrity, shackled
by political intrigue and constraints.
 

“The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and
Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” by Sanjaya Baru, published in 2014, is an
account of former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s two terms in
office. Sanjaya Baru was appointed as ‘Media Adviser’ to Dr. Manmohan Singh during his first term in UPA – 1 from
2004 to 2009. He has mainly touched upon this time period. This book is in the
form of a political memoir and its
narrative follows a chronological format, painting a picture of Dr. Singh’s
terms in UPA 1 and UPA 2. 

 

In the introduction to his book, Baru proclaims that none of
his predecessors at the Prime Minister’s office ever wrote a full book on his
experiences during his tenure. Editors as famous as B G Verghese, Kuldip Nayar,
H K Dua and Prem Shankar Jha chose not to do so. And neither did bureaucrats
like G Parthasarathi, Ram Mohan Rao and PVR. K. Prasad. Some columns or
articles were written by some of the aforementioned, but not a comprehensive
account.

 

Baru himself had no plans of ever penning his experiences in
the PMO, but was persuaded by Chiki Sarkar and Kamini Mahadevan of Penguin
Books, especially when the descent of Dr. Manmohan Singh in the people’s eyes
into an object of ridicule during his second term as Prime Minister saddened
him greatly. He felt that a leader should either be loved or hated, not
ridiculed and mocked.

 

Sanjaya Baru’s account starts from when he became the Media
Adviser to the then – Prime Minister in 2004, and gives insider information on
the landmark events, political workings, bureaucracy and achievements in the
PMO with the prime focus on Dr. Manmohan Singh. The author valiantly tries to
portray Dr Manmohan Singh in a positive light, belying the actual events taking
place and the subsequent media portrayal of these.

 

The book portrays
the rise and fall of Dr. Manmohan Singh from a reluctant economist – turned –
prime minister to a puppet-like character dancing to the tunes of the then – UPA
chief Sonia Gandhi. Along with insights into
the internal politics in the cabinet, the functioning of bureaucrats, prime
achievements of the UPA 1 government, it also shows us the work methods of
Media Advisers and the so-called Spin
Doctors. Through
oblique references to people and situations, there is enough material for the
reader to judge the then Prime Minister’s efficiency and integrity.

At the time of its release, in 2014, “The
Accidental Prime Minister” was closely scrutinized by the then
– media primarily because it revealed many fascinating things about the power
equation / struggle between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh. Keen interest
in this book also arose since it was released during the time of elections. While
the ruling Congress Party scrambled to deny the veracity of the book’s
contents, the Opposition indulged in gleeful government – bashing. Dr. Manmohan
Singh’s daughter Upinder Singh
herself denounced the book, calling it “nothing but a stab in the back… a huge
betrayal of trust”.

I started reading with some preconceived notions
in my head about the non – performing image of Dr.
Manmohan Singh as a man who
rightly deserved the ridicule he aroused in the general population’s minds. I
was particularly curious at the reactions of his family.

 

Instead I found
that Sanjaya Baru, far from showing the man to be a silent robotic personality,
had held up an image of a Brutus – like tormented tragic hero, with a
tremendous amount of turmoil in his heart.

 

Baru actually
portrays him as an extremely deserving Prime Minister of India who is trapped
in his own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and thus becomes an object of
contempt and gains the notoriety of destroying the magnificent stature of the
office that he held.

 

He defends Dr. Manmohan Singh and it is UPA chief Sonia
Gandhi and her gaggle of yes-men who are shown up in a poor light. The book does not
disparage him in any manner. It tries to
explain plainly the power equation between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh
but does not sensationalize the issue. It only re-affirms what the Indian
public knew to be true.

 

Dr. Manmohan Singh
is shown, regrettably, as a helpless, clueless shadow – puppet of Sonia Gandhi
who almost arouses our sympathies because of his ineffectiveness in functioning
as the Prime Minister of India. This
sad truth was simply being put on record by the primary witness, ie, Sanjaya
Baru, to this political drama.

 

Baru tell us that
Dr Singh was terrified of losing his place in the scheme of things if he did
not kowtow to the High Command, Sonia Gandhi. For Dr. Singh, the Gandhi family
came first, followed by the political party, prime minister’s office and,
lastly, the country.

 

He was anxious of not
getting into Sonia Gandhi’s bad books, and always insisted that on no account
was his importance to be broadcast over and above that of the First Family. He
chastised Baru on one occasion for handing him the credit for a particular
event. He knew that Sonia Gandhi wanted the credit for it to be given to her
son Rahul.

 

Perhaps the
treatment meted out to former Congressmen Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri
forced Dr. Singh to act in this manner. Both these stalwarts had stood their
ground on several issues against Sonia Gandhi and their importance in the
political arena was erased.  Narasimha
Rao was treated as a complete outcast and she refused permission for his last
rites to be performed in the capital, where all past prime ministers of the
country had had their funerals. Sitaram Kesri, the president of the Congress
party before Sonia Gandhi, was literally thrown out of power to make way for
Sonia Gandhi.

 

Another mistake
that Dr Singh made was to think that that no matter what his cabinet did, he himself
would remain with a clean image. This was perhaps his vital failing. A Prime Minister of a democracy
cannot remain submerged in filth and not get mud on his face.

 

Corruption on a
massive scale as is seen in the various scams like the 2G scam, the Coalgate
scam, the spectrum allocation spam, the Commonwealth Games scam and other scams
during that era thrived merrily under his very nose and he remained a silent
bystander. His uprightness and principles did not do the country any good as
his party men carried on the plunder of the nation in various guises.

 

Baru compares him
to Bhishma of the Mahabharata, a principled person fighting for the wrong side.
He remained a silent spectator to Draupadi’s humiliation, as did Dr Singh to
his country’s loot and plunder.

 

Ministers and party
men treated Dr. Manmohan Singh with disdain and sidestepped him whenever
possible. They met and reported directly to Sonia Gandhi instead of the Prime
Minister, thus bypassing the chain of command. For example, Pranab Mukherjee, a
cabinet minister of that era, came back from a foreign trip and did not bother
to update Dr Singh about his trip. Dr Singh apparently felt hurt and humiliated
but could do nothing about it. 

 

In political
circles, it was clearly known that Sonia Gandhi wanted to become the PM or at
least to give the post to a family member, but historical circumstances did not
allow her to do so at the time. Therefore, she picked out Dr. Manmohan Singh, a
receptive, compliant personality. Baru realized quite early on that all
successes were to be attributed to the Gandhi family and all failures and
mistakes to the Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi was in the coveted position of
absolute authority with no responsibility.

 

Sanjaya Baru had
previously worked in Financial Express and Economic Times. He belonged to a cartel
of journalists and other key people like politicians, diplomats, business
leaders and thinkers, etc who had a leaning towards the Congress Party. This
group had fixed and archaic notions about the class of elitists in whose hands
the governance of the country should rest. Any deviation from this fixed notion
was frowned upon and criticized deeply. Newcomers were considered upstarts and
denied entry into this club.

 

Baru refers to the
writings of communist ideologue Mohit Sen, encouraging Sonia Gandhi to take the
mantle of president of the party in the same way that a European lady, Annie
Besant, was the first woman president of the Indian National Congress. This tendency
to place the Nehru – Gandhi family on a pedestal is clearly evident in the
following excerpt of the book:

 

“I assumed that Mohit, as an Indira loyalist, had a
special regard for her heirs. But his opinion that Sonia should enter politics
was also based on his conviction that without a Nehru-Gandhi family member at
the top, the Congress party would splinter and wither away. This view was also
encouraged by members of the Delhi durbar—a ‘power elite’, to use sociologist
C. Wright Mill’s term, comprising civil servants, diplomats, editors,
intellectuals and business leaders who had worked with or been close to the
regimes of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. Some of them inhabited the many trusts and
institutions that the Nehru-Gandhi family controlled. They had all profited in
one way or another, over the years, from their loyalty to the Congress’s ‘first
family”.

 

Baru shows us that
Sonia Gandhi controlled everything. To keep herself in the clear, she
formulated the NAC which imposed welfare schemes upon the UPA government.  It weakened the exchequer and shook up the
economy in a bad way.

 

Perpetuation of
the Nehru – Gandhi dynastic rule was her only objective. Her yes-men were put
in all the powerful positions and no one could question her authority. In the
second term of the UPA, Dr Singh was not even allowed to employ a Media Advisor
of his own choice.

 

The book also tells
us how political intrigue rules over national interests. Truce endeavours between
Dr. Manmohan Singh and General Musharraf were dismissed because Sonia Gandhi
wanted the credit for it to go to her son Rahul and herself. The nuclear deal,
Dr Singh’s singular and monumental achievement which is recounted extensively
in this book, was almost scuttled by the Communists with their own agenda, and
the Congress Party looking to appease the Muslim vote by trying not to appear
close to the USA. In spite of tremendous pressure to cancel it, Manmohan Singh
put his foot down and the deal went through. The government nearly fell.

 

According to Baru,
Manmohan Singh was solely responsible for the UPA’s return to power in 2009. It
was his policies, profound economic insight and deft handling of external
affairs that won the coalition another term, and a fresh lease of life. Sonia
Gandhi stood for total power without any responsibility; Dr Singh stood for
total responsibility without any power. They were two faces of the same tragic
coin.

 

Baru admits that
there are gaps in his narrative because of the lack of some confidential and
crucial inputs. Therefore, this account of the dynamics between Sonia Gandhi
and Dr Manmohan Singh is slightly sketchy.

 

The book is a crisp and engaging read, giving the reader an
inside view of the corridors of power and intrigue in New Delhi’s diplomatic
and governmental circles. It also delves into the methods of working of
Media Advisers. National and international equations are well-explained. And
last, but not least, it gives us a comprehensive insight into the personality
of one of India’s most silent Prime Ministers.

 

However, the more prosaic chapters tend to bore the reader
with the details of various governmental schemes. Also, Baru tries to portray
himself almost as a guide to the Prime Minister, like a Krishna to an Arjun, so
some claims remain unverified and inconclusive, since we, as readers, were not
party to those conversations.

 

Holding up a vivid
picture of a failed hero, he quotes Dr Singh: “He said, ‘I am sorry about what happened. You see, you must understand
one thing. I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of
power. That creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the
centre of power. The government is answerable to the party.'”

 

Perhaps, this book
by Baru is the first ever to give a kinder version of the political truth of
Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Accidental Prime Minister, a man of academic brilliance and moral integrity, shackled
by political intrigue and constraints.
 

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