Friday, June 13, 2014

Sanjaya Baru's "The Accidental Prime Minister"

Sanjaya Baru's book on ex-PM of India Manmohan Singh, "The Accidental Prime Minister", tries to project Singh as a Shakespearean tragic hero, noble man with inherent flaws. Since Baru was the media adviser to Singh during his first term, he is privy to the intrigues in the highest echelons of Indian politics. Singh remained under the shadow of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Baru tries to project Singh as an independent and strong PM but Singh chose to remain shy (because he had a troubled childhood) and subservient to mother-son duo (Now I understand why Modi during his election campaign cast aspersions against maa bete). Singh had a difficult time in the government because the coalition partner in leftist parties always saw him as the agent of capitalism and imperialism as he had opened up India in 1991 with advocacy of free market during his stint as the Finance Minister in Narsimha Rao cabinet. Even the left-leaning Congressmen like Pranab Mukherjee and Jayaram Ramesh and Sonia loyalists tried to sabotage the good works done by Singh. They gave credits of all good works done by Singh to Sonia and bad works to Singh. But Singh chose the route of passivity and self-abnegation (one reason maybe that he was not directly chosen by the people but was a member of Rajya Sabha, hence the sobriquet of accidental PM). This lack of strength and fatalistic "que sera, sera" attitude in Singh made Baru frustrated. Baru has used the term "teething" often in the book to describe Singh's actions, suggesting infantile Singh and Baru's role as his guardian. When Baru assumes this role of an officious guardian and jumps the gun at times, Singh admonishes him. Baru presents Singh's biggest achievement to be the nuclear deal he was able to sign with the US despite vociferous opposition from the left and the BJP. It remains to be seen how this achievement translated into easing the life of common people. After reading the book, Singh comes out as a good man surrounded by evil figures. Baru suggests that Singh should have used his political clout in choosing honest and capable people in his second term. Since he failed in doing that, his second term proved disastrous, tainted with multiple allegations of corruption. Is Baru trying to project that his absence in Singh's office during the second term caused the difference? I enjoyed reading this book.

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