PM was worse than a rubber stamp of Sonia

| | in Usual Suspects

Like many of the movers and shakers of India, Manmohan Singh’s former Media Adviser (one of the very few individuals he handpicked for a job in his PMO) presumably believes that India begins and ends in Delhi. Or, at least he pretends to believe so.

A fortnight before his book, The Accidental Prime Minister hit the stands, I asked Sanjaya Baru why he had chosen April 11 as the release date. He explained that because it would be “after the election.” “After the elections in Delhi you mean,” I retorted incredulously. “Yes,” he replied with a knowing smile.

The anecdote is interesting for a simple reason. Baru was clever enough to choose April 11 as the release date for his kiss-and-tell account of the UPA Governments because he wanted it to appear that it wasn’t linked to the elections. It was a familiar sleight of hand and I can almost hear Baru asking some breathless journalist incredulously ‘You mean they are still voting in some parts of India?’

The disingenuity doesn’t wash but it is of a piece with the present PMO’s laughable attempt to suggest that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was shocked, if not devastated, by Baru’s revelations. The undistinguished individual who is apparently responsible for media communications at present has let it be known that Baru’s was an “attempt to misuse a privileged position…for commercial gains.” These are strong words and would have cut ice were it not for the fact that half of the relevant sections of Delhi know that Baru remains on the best of terms with the Prime Minister, that the PM still uses him to write speeches that other officials such as the National Security Adviser can’t or won’t, and that it is common knowledge that Baru completed the book at least five months ago and was merely waiting to ensure that the mass fury triggered by his revelations wouldn’t lead to Kapil Sibal being devastated by the voters of Chandni Chowk.

The PMO is right that the book “smacks of fiction”. It is fiction to believe that the book was unrelated to the election or, at least, to Manmohan Singh’s impending transfer of residence from Race Course Road to Motilal Nehru Marg. Second, I would venture to suggest that it is fiction to believe that the first occasion the PM got to know what the book contained was when an advance copy reached him.

Maybe we will have to wait for Manmohan Singh’s own autobiography to know the story of the UPA Government as seen through his eyes. Maybe that may prove an unending wait because Manmohan isn’t known to be terribly forthcoming. Pending the PM’s own intervention, Baru’s book is likely to be the most authentic account of the UPA as seen from the perspective of the only Manmohan loyalist in the Government.

That the PM does not come out in a very flattering light is to state the obvious. Over the years he has acquired the reputation of being excessively malleable, a wimp, a doormat or even worse. It has been routinely said that he lacked political spine and very rarely stood up for what he believed was right. Probably the only occasion was the Indo-US Nuclear accord.

All these facets of the PM’s character are known and Baru can hardly enlighten the nation further. The new revelations lie in Baru’s claim that the supine conduct of Manmohan Singh was directly correlated to the quantum of Sonia Gandhi’s involvement in the Government. The more Sonia micro-managed, the more Manmohan Singh wilted.

This certainly does not show the PM in a flattering light but more important it suggests that the carefully painted portrait of Sonia Gandhi as a selfless servant of the party and the poor is complete hogwash. Sonia, it turns out, was a scheming politician who put her proprietorial stamp on the UPA Government by overseeing all decisions and appointments. Manmohan Singh, it turns out, was worse than a rubber stamp. He was at best a sub-tenant of Race Course Road, the legitimate tenant had decided to stay at 10 Janpath.

Certain conclusions are in order. First, in the debate over the ‘idea of India’ we have seen the injection of a new input: The complete subversion of the Cabinet system of Government. Under the UPA, power was outsourced to a lady who was not bound by the oath of secrecy and office. She took the decisions, made the appointments. Manmohan Singh signed meekly. This was indirect rule at its best.

Second, if Manmohan Singh played no role in decision-making should he be blamed for the mess India finds itself in? In the early part of the campaign Modi directed his flak at the PM. I think it was fire power wasted. The real owner of the UPA has always concealed herself behind protective layers. Baru’s book has exposed that subterfuge. With people in 400 seats yet to vote, the fire power of those interested in change should be focussed on the individual and the family who is responsible for India’s sorry state. The implication of Baru’s book is that the person who facilitated the coal scam, the 2G corruption and God knows what else must be held accountable.

Let the Gandhis explain why they derailed India over the past years. Manmohan Singh can be the star witness for the prosecution. In retirement he may yet redeem some of his self-respect.

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