Commendations or Brickbats
By Asif Anwar Alig
The book under review, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh by his erstwhile media advisor Sanjaya Baru vociferously wad praises and brickbats. Witnessed functioning of Dr. Singh's office to his variegated moods or personality shades, author pens both recoups and fallows. Dedicated chronicling of prime minister's achievements and failures turn this book a must read.
Dr. Singh's initiatives in United Progressive Alliance-1 (UPA) government were true hallmarks. Emphasizing the visionary economic policymaking he wasn't ensnared through media mockeries. Historic step to bring India out of nuclear apartheid to empowered foreign policies got lauded. Baru recounts such details in the book in a firsthand assessment of his four years' association with Prime Minister's Office (PMO) from 2004 to 2009 to the journalistic assessments on premier's rest years in the office.
Baru emphasizes that Dr. Sing's initiatives in UPA-1 were outstanding and confronted many discerning aberrations. Common perceptions were that Singh's elevation to high post would turn him into Congress president cum UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's puppet. In the later years though, government began to function with alternate power center just to translate initial perceptions into an unambiguous reality.
Out of the many revelations, Baru highlights emergence of a globally acknowledged stalwart leader in Dr. Singh from a shy individual who projected his country into global foray. This book highlights India's 2nd longest serving premier's astuteness as well as apathies witnessed on many occasions. Glimpsing into his rest six years after Baru parted ways from PMO he recounts follies and troubles being encountered on many occasions. Author's journalistic assessments speak volumes of such idiocies that have been reported in this book and which somehow benefitted country's main opposition party in the general elections.
This book assesses circumstances under which apolitical Dr. Manmohan Singh was anointed to lead country. His regular silences or unwillingness to react on matters which concerned during his premiership have been persuasively mentioned. Preemptively inexperienced leadership background made him an accidental prime minister. The naïve leader became a visionary statesman even without having any administrative insights on later years. His dilemmas or incapability to take certain decisions or Sonia Gandhi's grip in governance are seminal information in this book. Projecting such details in lighter vein, the book insinuates strong message through indicating how situational ironies became fatal for him—to damage the personal reputation.
Dr. Singh's sheepish attitude, unwillingness to take action or inability to quit his position while his ministers were parties to scams and rampant corruption during his premiership, he provided ample room for the opposition to grab chance to defeat his party. He could have definitely protected his previously earned visionary scholastic image to save Congress party from humiliating defeat by taking actions at the right juncture. What stopped him to maintain such reticence to tackle his erring colleagues? This book focuses on that lacking stature of him as head of the state.
Passivity and inability to counter political juxtapositions deep rooted into Indian system further worsened premier's condition. Baru points out that although Dr. Singh gathered strength to threaten resignation proposal on many occasions in UPA-1, his total silence in UPA-2 proved fatal resonance. His personality trait, attitude and preparation for the media as country's premier are prerequisites that find room in this book. Undoubtedly Congress party and Dr. Singh attained global admiration in UPA-1 while India-US nuclear deal was sealed. Ironically his precluded silence in UPA-2 and keenness to remain dwarfed before Gandhi family oscillated country's political scene and damaged government's credibility. If he had quit while situation worsened he would have maintained a clean image.
Besides multifaceted interpretation of relationships between Dr. Singh and Gandhi family, author also has several commendations and brickbats in the mixed assessments. Author's duty to bring facts is acceptable but book's arrival in the midst of election campaign proved distressing enough for a political favor to opponents. Complexities between him and Gandhi family have been meticulously projected in this book.
Ironically, country's premier considered him tinier than Gandhi family so regularly emphasized they must be given more value than the head of the state. Book's absorbing narration of facts by the author is an honorable confession but equally do askew loyalist's image. Facts like Sonia Gandhi approaching prime minister instead of him initiating meetings were one of the many untold stories which media didn't report earlier.
Baru implies how Dr. Singh was repeatedly tried to be projected the person of his own. But his willingness of not to present self or even to equate with Sonia Gandhi weakened image of country's prime minister. Such self-tormenting, readiness to demoralize self and paving the way to become puppet gradually diluted globally recognized scholar's personality. That passivism of him augured Sonia Gandhi to encroach into governance system, the author points out. Worst of them all was that he even failed to select his own team of ministers due to such remorseful constraints. Undeniably, Baru admired Dr. Singh beyond his professional relationships. As editor of leading economic daily The Economic Times, his considerations for Dr. Singh were of an icon or peer in economics whose economic theories were indisputable. Baru was picked to work for prime minister as latter's 'eye and ear.' He got opportunity to make a mark for him. Such emotional pitches are present in this book. He stresses why Dr. Singh deserved praise for running coalition so persuasively without any interference or forceful scenario to accommodate coalition partners in the plum posts under pressure in UPA-1 government.
The author laments changing scene in UPA-2. His independent investigative observations of government in all these years are summed up in the book. It was unexpected decline of prime minister's authority especially while most of his suggestions were considered meaningless or overpowered by Gandhi family to party's top brass in the behest of Sonia Gandhi. Although it was repeatedly denied that there was no iota of dual power center in UPA but constant delusions or media watches indicated Sonia Gandhi maintained supreme authority on the government's functioning.
Besides bringing such power equations the best of Manmohan Singh's skills as economist have been focused for the reform of this country. As head of the state his foreign policy initiatives brought India into newer heights. The sincere steps of him strengthened relationships between India and its neighboring countries Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ironically his political authority as prime minister turned perplexing over the period when he was fully delved into politics. This book brings the insights on the experience of work culture in Indian prime minister's office in a context of common government functioning to bureaucratic maneuvers and ministerial agonies. What went wrong and at which juncture Dr. Singh's grip loosened? The author portrays a feeling-less, soundless, expressionless and robotic individual in prime minister. His honest assessments about Dr. Singh are also that he was most deserving qualified Prime Minister India ever had. His reputation was destroyed by destabilizing authority of country's highest power center. It left ample room for disparages happening on many occasions.
Isn't it lamenting that country's prime minister insist his media advisor that under no circumstances he be promoted more than Gandhi family. It was an embarrassing scene for a media advisor who couldn't do justice to his position in office. Political conspiracies directly affect national interests. Such scenes brought bad omen for Dr. Singh and Congress party alike. These questions have been raised in the book which readers can judge between the lines.
Asif Anwar Alig
is co-Founder of
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