A lot has been made out of Sanjaya Baru’s ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, a first-person account of the first five years of Manmohan Singh’s Prime Ministership.
After Congress sundries called Baru some choicest names, my old undergrad teacher, Upinder Singh, has also jumped in to defend her Dad’s legacy. Legacy!
What exactly is the point, she’s making? If she wanted to see the book emerging after the elections, this is meaningless.
One among Baru or Chiki Sarkar, his publisher, had to be smarter and get the book into the marketplace before Singh was totally obliterated from public memory.
Baru has said the idea to launch during election season was Sarkar’s. Good for her. Why should she have waited until election results had sunk in and getting even 50 folks into India International Centre’s Multi-Purpose Hall would have been a difficult task?
Speed-to-market is a publisher’s dharma. And it isn’t for nothing that Sarkar is among the shrewdest minds in the game.
Hint: Hardly anyone’s blaming her for putting the PM and Sonia Gandhi in a spot – Baru alone is taking the darts!
Having reviewed it cursorily, I wonder what’s in the book that the country doesn’t know?
For dummies, Baru offers a sophisticated critique of Singh’s achievements, yet places before us the fundamental fault line - that Singh didn’t have the political legitimacy to assert himself.
Can Upinder Singh claim that he did?
Her miscarried sense of betrayal is strange. Is there a single case where the PM didn’t appear utterly beholden to the Congress President? When was the last time he seemed to say, ‘I’ve got here because of you, but I’ll get out since your durbaris are hell bent on making me a doormat?’
Upinder Singh has said that Baru had peripheral access to the PM – and he’s written the book as if he were the Principal Secretary to PM. Well, I happened to travel with the PM on Air Force One (not Air-India One, which he takes when flying overseas) – and the bandobast had Baru’s name right after then Principal Secretary TKA Nair. Ditto for the cavalcade plan. His car went right after Nair’s, which in turn tailed Singh’s BMW.
Also, PM seemed to give his Media Advisor all the access he wanted. Who else would he? Almost everyone else was beholden to the Congress President.
The Singhs should be glad that the book stopped abruptly in the first term of UPA-I. Many wish that it has a logical sequel into the PM’s second term.
As is well known, these years of UPA-II represented the nadir of political control. Power slipped into the hands of the syndicate and they thought nothing of making him look like a robot. Being a man of such few friends and public emotions, Manmohan Singh has an exasperating streak – one can’t even know whether he even realised how he’s outlived his welcome. How I wish Baru’s grand successor, Pankaj Pachauri, takes upon him this task!
Two other books haven’t got even a fraction of this attention. I wish Upinder Singh picks them up.
One is by PC Parakh, a highly-regarded bureaucrat who served Manmohan Singh as his coal secretary while the PM intermittently held the charge of coal minister. A recent column of mine proved to be a preview of Parakh’s book, ‘Crusador or Conspirator?’ (PM's boys nixed ex-coal secy over auction ordinance back in 2004!)
The Congress President’s loyalists must take Parakh on similarly!
While Baru talks of UPA-I from a Media Advisor’s eye and Parakh flags Singh’s lack of spine over coal, my neighbour TSR Subramanian completes the trilogy.
In his book, ‘India at Turning Point’, Subramanian tells us a gem when the PM was an underling in the Finance Ministry: “I recall a conversation with the then Deputy Secretary in the Finance Ministry, who attended the junior ‘lunch club’ in North Block in the early 1970s. At that time, Manmohan Singh as Deputy Economic Advisor used to attend the same lunch club every day and the participants would exchange gossip and notes about the goings-on in the ministry.
“My friend, the then Deputy Secretary told me later that the lunch club knew even then that Manmohan was destined for ‘greatness’ and that he would go ‘far’. They had assessed that Manmohan would quickly and shrewdly grasp what the boss wanted – the Additional Secretary or the Finance Secretary or the minister, as the case may be – prepare a case for ‘approval’ by the boss of exactly what he (the boss) wanted even before he articulated it, couch it with arguments replete with economic theory, make it sound profound and put it up for the boss’s approval, before finally announcing the policy as emerging from the boss, which indeed it actually did.”
The fond daughter at the centre of this piece is a serious historian. These readings, and many to follow, will give her a picture of what her father did to the institution of Prime Minister in the last 10 years.
(The columnist works at the intersect of media, strategy and regulation on RIL. The views are personal. Tweets @therohitbansal).