A book by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former aide Sanjaya Baru, ‘Accidental Prime Minister’, created a storm as soon as it hit the stands on Friday with damning claims on the equation between the PM and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and the crippling effect it had on governance.
The claims drew a strong reaction from the PMO, with insiders saying that a hurt Singh had told some of his aides he felt he had been “stabbed in the back”.
Baru, sources said, had sent a copy of the book to the PM about a week ago with a note in which he had said that even though he felt “traumatised by the events of 2009”, he had tried to be objective.
As the former media adviser has recalled in his book, Singh had asked him to return from a teaching job in Singapore to assist him in his second term in 2009 but failed to deliver on the promise at the eleventh hour after he had returned to Delhi.
This, he has indicated in the book, was because of the party interfering in the decisions of the government and, in a larger sense, symbolic of the differences between the two.
The book, which comes in the middle of the general elections, appeared to reinforce the opposition BJP’s charge that Singh’s UPA government was crippled by the “two centres of power” and suggested that the PM “turned a blind eye” to the alleged corruption charges against his ministers in the government.
“I have to 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,” Baru has quoted Singh as having told him, suggesting that the PM had virtually surrendered to Gandhi.
That he surrendered his authority to the political bosses — Gandhi and her son Rahul — has been highlighted in the book where Singh snubbed attempts to give him credit for expanding NREGS across the country while the party wanted to credit Rahul Gandhi for it.
“The PM sat stiff in stony silence. I broke the silence adding, ‘The party wants to give the entire credit for this decision to Rahul. But both you and (rural development minister) Raghuvansh Prasad deserve as much credit,’” Baru has written about his interaction with the PM after learning that the Congress had taken objection to the media crediting Singh for the move.
“I do not want any credit for myself… I do not want you to protect my image,” Baru has quoted
Singh as having said while snapping at him for trying to credit him in the media.
That the PM was not in charge also comes across in an incident Baru narrates about how Singh had “implemented Karunanidhi’s request” to allot the telecom portfolio to A Raja in May 2007.
This was two days after the DMK chief informed him that “A Raja would be his key representative in Delhi” during a public function in Chennai.
In another instance, the book points out that Andhra leader Subbirami Reddy was “accommodated” in the council of ministers at the last minute after “white paint had been applied over the name of Harish Rawat” in the Prime Minister’s letter that had been “typed and signed” for the President for the January 2006 reshuffle as Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel got the request for Reddy’s inclusion at the last minute before it was “dispatched” to the President.
The book also highlights how ministers did not demonstrate their “loyalty” to the PM because they owed their jobs to the Congress president and not Singh.
“That Jairam Ramesh’s loyalty was only with Sonia became clear within weeks of his becoming a minister when he chose to embarrass the PM by leaking a letter that Sonia had written to Dr Singh cautioning him against pursuing an initiative he valued a lot — the free trade agreement (FTA) with member countries of the ASEAN,” the book says.
Congress leaders “did no see loyalty to the PM as a political necessity”, it adds. Against this backdrop, Baru claims he felt the PM was “not too comfortable” with the parallel policy structure of the NAC under Sonia Gandhi.
While the book does not provide much insight into the alleged tussle between the telecom ministry under Raja and the PMO over 2G spectrum pricing and allocation, it says industrialist Ratan Tata had “alerted” Singh about the alleged favouritism towards the media business of then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran’s brother.
“His (telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran) reputation also became unsavoury as he began using his telecom portfolio to favour his brother Kalanidhi’s media business. I was not sure if Dr Singh had been alerted to this by his officials, but he certainly was by Ratan Tata in early 2007,” Baru has written.
Tata, he claims, had “conveyed” about Maran’s attempt to “browbeat him into doing a deal that would favour his brother Kalanidhi’s Sun TV” in early 2007 and the PM later “implemented Karunanidhi’s request” of allotting the telecom portfolio to Raja.
“He was himself incorruptible, and also ensured that no one in his immediate family ever did anything wrong, but he did not feel answerable for the misdemeanours of his colleagues and subordinates. In this instance, he felt even less because he was not the political authority that had appointed them to these ministerial positions,” Baru has written, referring to the “moral ambivalance” of Singh on the corruption charges against his government.
“In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers… Dr Singh’s approach was a combination of active morality for himself and passive morality with respect to others,” the book has said.
That Singh did not exercise political authority is further underlined in the book when it points out how “after asserting himself for a full twenty-four hours, caved in to pressure of both his own party and the DMK” and again inducted Raja into the cabinet after the 2009 election victory.