In the years since Manmohan Singh became the prime minister in 2004, he has experienced many ups and downs. For a considerable period of time, he was perceived as an economist prime minister who could do no wrong. That image though, in his second term, was hit badly when several cases of scams unfolded. And forget tackling the problem or taking the moral responsibility as the head of the government for erring colleagues, he demonstrated passivity and reticence, which is inconceivable. Now that Singh is prepared to move out of 7 Race Course Road — after consistently receiving a lot of flak and euphemisms — Sanjaya Baru, the former media adviser of the prime minister, in his book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, assiduously applauds the 13th prime minister of India.
In his book, Baru unequivocally blames the leadership of the Congress party for the failures of the government and suggests that whatever good came out of the government was because of the unyielding efforts of the prime minister. For all the achievements of the government, the writer gives the credit to the prime minister and, to the utmost surprise, claims that the media adviser was consulted and he played a key role in all of them. He writes: “Mani Dixit (JN Dixit, the late former National Security Adviser) was unquestionably the man closest to him in his PMO. But after Mani’s death, I had filled some of that vacuum.”
The writer finds no fault with Singh, either in his way of working or at the policy-making front, apart from a slightly ‘weak personality’, but then quotes the prime minister saying to his media adviser unfalteringly: “The Left have always opposed the Congress on foreign policy when it suited them. They criticised Panditji, they criticized Indiraji, they criticised Narasimha Rao ji. Whatever I did as finance minister, they criticised, they criticised Non-Alignment when it suited them, they supported it when it suited them. As long as I am prime minister, I will not allow these communists to dictate our foreign policy.”
The writer presents Singh as not a naïve but a competent politician, managing the coalition quite well in the time of crisis, giving him the credit of bringing the Samajwadi Party in the alliance when the Left threatened to withdraw support, contradicting what PV Narasimha Rao once said about Manmohan Singh, “He is an economist, not a politician.”
Baru’s narratives seem to convey that he provided the prime minister the ‘right’ advices, trying to create an impression that he was the second-most weighty personality in the UPA I after the prime minister, going to an extreme extent and suggesting that he saved the ministerial berth of Arjun Singh when the prime minister was desperate to boot him out, while at the same time consistently maintaining in the book that Singh had a “marginal role in the appointments of ministers and the final word was always of the parties constituting the coalition”, that the prime minister had a feeling that he was an ‘accidental prime minister’ appointed by Sonia Gandhi.
One element that is increasingly evident throughout the book is the difference in Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh relationship. The book makes it apparent that the relationship was full of trouble. However, the writer decides not to throw enough light on how that relationship actually endured and thrived for so long, but brazenly deduces that Singh’s loyalty to the Gandhi family remained “unrewarded” and, in fact, worked as an impediment for him to emerge as a great prime minister.
It would not be wrong to say that we Indians lack the art of honouring and judging individuals despite our unrestrained obsession with them. Our writers try to do justice to the subject but unwarranted reverence towards the subject without contextualising it correctly comes into the way. Sanjay Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh is another one in that series. Baru not only fails in judging the prime minister, but also in honouring him.
Baru’s account is absorbing, but gossipy and cattish. The book can be read to understand how politics works in today’s India, but the writer’s self-absorbance and self-righteousness — excess of both — make the book a disappointment, even if one is to forget the inordinate ‘I’s.