Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Accidental Prime Minister Must Speak Up Now

By John Cheeran

So who did not know that Manmohan Singh was an accidental prime minister? Everyone, including Dr Singh, knew it. Manmohan Singh’s strength--that he had no political constituency of his own--was his apparent weakness. Only Dr Singh could have overcome it, no number of wise men could have worked a transformation.
Dr Singh was no stranger to Congress when he was given the nation’s reins by Sonia Gandhi. He had been working with the party since 1991 and should have known how much independence and power he would be rationed out by Ms Gandhi.
Much as Dr Singh’s former information adviser Sanjaya Baru laments in his new book The Accidental Prime Minister—The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh (Published by Penguin | Viking, Price Rs 599, Pages 301) how the prime minister frittered away the opportunity to assert himself, you cannot be blind to political reality.
In 2004, there was no one else in Congress party who had Dr Singh’s qualities of competence and compliance. As is public knowledge, without Baru saying so, Sonia was certainly not prepared to name Pranab Mukherjee as prime minister or deputy prime minister.
A disillusioned Baru, to buttress his argument, recalls that in 2011 Mukherjee told him--by that time Dr Singh’s stature had taken a severe beating thanks to the 2G scam and policy paralysis--that the image of the government and the country is inextricably linked to the image of the prime minister. Baru writes: “With the emasculating of the prime minister, not just Dr Singh himself, but his government and, ultimately, the country, became the losers.” 
Despite the PMO’s and Congress party’s outlandish reactions that termed Baru’s book as “fiction” the author has tried to ‘project’ Dr Singh’s image as a competent prime minister during UPA-1, with him being around as information adviser. 
At many levels, this is a kind and considerate account of Dr Singh. Baru reminds us that Dr Singh is the only Indian prime minister not from the Nehru-Gandhi family to have served two terms in office. But the raison d’etre for The Accidental Prime Minister is the public perception that Dr Singh accomplished this feat through unquestioning submissiveness. And Baru’s book confirms the public perception.  
Where Baru scores his points is when he writes that Dr Singh ignored his advice to stand on his own feet, especially not contesting the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, which would have added to his political legitimacy. It was, in fact, a piece of very sound advice but Baru unrealistically bet too high on Dr Singh. Now it is a moot question that with Baru as ‘adviser’ (as a Sanjaya) to the PM (as he was pitching for), would Dr Singh’s second term would have been any different?
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