Monday, April 28, 2014

THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER AND SANJAYA BARU: BOOK REVIEW BY D S SARAO

THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER AND SANJAYA BARU

BOOK REVIEW BY D S SARAO

If you are looking for a ' tell all ' book which has juicy tidbits, harsh judgements and stories about intrigues, state secrets, political conspiracies or a book which specifically identifies scheming politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the lacklustre performance of the UPA 2 with an 'Accidental Prime-Minister' at the helm, then Sajaya Baru's book will definitely not give you that satisfaction.

 Read between the lines and you may be able to make your own deductions as to why  an Oxford and Cambridge educated intellectual, a one time chief economic adviser to the Government of India, a distinguished professional who had held the post of economic affairs secretary in the union finance ministry, a man who had been the governor of the RBI, the deputy chairman of the planning commission and who had built an enviable reputation as an honest, progressive and confident finance minister and then later as the PM of a nation with one of the fastest growing economies of the world, ultimately chose a path of least resistance accepting ‘que sera sera’- what ever will be will be.

Three things become clear once you have gone through the book. Firstly, with no axe to grind, Sanjaya Baru's loyality as the Press Secretary (2004-08) to the Prime minister or as the  'Adviser to the PM' as he would like to be called, comes out clearly. There are no personal attacks on the PM other than the fact that Baru comes out quite critical on the style of functioning of Dr Manmohan which has ultimately caused immense damage to the PMs own standing and credibility. Baru is also no whistle blower and there is nothing  in the book not already known about the 'dirty tricks department', that unholy mix of politicians and bureaucrats which caused the Prime minister to be sidelined from  most decision making itself !! Secondly, as you go through the book, the equally well known IAS vs IFS sniping coupled with the Indian bureaucracies  concern with status, protocol, ego and turf battles rather then in running the country becomes evident. The infighting in the PMO with the never ending power play between the NSA, the principal secretary and the PMs special adviser on internal security also find a mention in chapter 3 of the book. The book is certainly not an expose and need not be confused with any obligation of 'omerta' or any  debt  which Baru owes to the Indian bureaucracy, the PMO or the Congress party, whatever the PMO or his detractors may now say. Thirdly, the crass political ambitions of men with mediocricity and  opportunism as their hall mark (Arjun Singh,  Chidambaram, Mukherjee, Chavan, Shinde,Anthony – to name a few) are again left for the reader to deduce from the factual narrative of events and incidents as they unfold in the book.

 In a country where more than a 100  out of  the 523 Parliament members actually stand accused of crimes and the vast majority of the politicians and bureaucrats have steadfastly and with single mindedness of purpose steered this great nation of a billion careening along the path of destruction, Baru's book only reinforces the common mans perception that the PM was too good a man, too gentle a man, too weak a man who despite the entire country knowing that he was being used by an ambitious, unscrupulous and corrupt cabal, for some unknown reason did not have the gumption to stand up and say -' this much and no more'.

But Baru’s book also fails to answer that question which has plagued the nation for the last five years --- what was the compulsion of Dr Manmohan Singh to accept the post of the PM in the first place, and more importantly, what was the ‘raison d'ĂȘtre’  for the good Doctor to continue as the PM after he had been virtually sidelined from all Governmental decision making processes, foreign affairs, economic policies and did not even have the freedom of choosing his own team or making his own cabinet appointments. Baru himself, by his own admission, was a victim when the PM, during his second term, despite sounding him out to rejoin the PMO again as his media adviser, could not push through Baru’s appointment. 

With each passing day unearthing a myriad of scams( 2G, Coal-gate, Adarsh, Bellary, Hawala, Satyam, Commonwealth Games, Swiss accounts and black money :  the list is endless) and Manmohan Singh’s Government becoming synonymous with bribery, cronyism, kleptocracy, electoral frauds and nepotism ; should the PM have continued in an hostile atmosphere where he was being made the fall guy?? In chapter 8 (Promises to Keep) of his book, Baru very aptly tells us how the gains of UPA 1 and the advantage of India’s unprecedented growth were being frittered away as the PM slowly lost control (gave away?) not only over the fiscal policy but the functioning of the Government machinery itself. Add to this the Governments populist ‘Sat Sutra ‘ programmes --- Bharat Nirman, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission, National Rural Health Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid Day Meal Programme ; all being handled at the central and state level by politicians and bureaucrats out to make a quick buck in the free for all fiscal mela  gleefully implemented first by Mukherjee and then Chidambaram as the finance ministers.

 Recount the incident of the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi calling the ordinance to amend the Representation of Peoples' Act, 1951 as 'nonsense' hours before the PM was scheduled to meet the American President (chapter 13 : pages 282 /283). A clearly orchestrated event by the Congress party to assuage the public outburst against the Governments bill (whose Government was it anyway??) which had sought to remove constraints on law breakers becoming law makers. For Dr Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, this was another uppercut which he took silently without responding. The nation had waited with baited breath for him to return expecting that now at-least he would assert himself, nothing happened. For a man who had earned the respect of his own countrymen for standing by his convictions and inner conscience to push through the 123 Nuclear Deal (chapter 11), by now it was clear that the time had come for Dr Manmohan to leave but  he chose to stay. Why?  As Baru has mentioned very aptly --- ' when the horse you are riding becomes a Tiger  it is  difficult to dismount'.

     Finally , why did Baru write this book?? As he himself has said, like millions of Indians he too ' feels tragically cheated that he (Dr Manmohan) has allowed himself to become an object of such ridicule in his second term in office, in the process devaluing the office of the prime minister'. Harsh words these, but true none the less. Why did Baru leave the PMO  in 2008? That too at the height of Dr Manmohans popularity and when Singh was King ?? Though not mentioned clearly anywhere in the book, the signs that Baru was not a welcome fixture in the inner clique that was slowly taking over the functioning of the PM and the PMO itself, were already  becoming evident. Or as Baru quotes M S Swaminathans’ response to Indira Gandhis’ querry as to why the former wanted to quit---‘Madam, it is best to leave when every one asks you why rather then when!’.

A  well articulated book which can be easily read in one sitting. Quite educative and with a lot important facts related to mismanagement of the economy, the tepid and reactive foreign policy, the disenchantment of the international community with the country, the PMs attempts, helplessness and lack of will to sort his house in a hostile political atmosphere vitiated by coalition compulsions, tainted ministers at the central and state levels - all  of this cleverly camouflaged by Sanjaya Baru to avoid controversies. Indira was made an accidental PM in 1966 by a scheming group of elder politicians thinking that they will be able to manipulate her at will. She turned out to be the strongest PM the country ever had who had  neatly turned the tables on her manipulators . Dr Manmohan was chosen by Sonia because he had no political ambitions and would never be a threat to the Nehru – Gandhi family while Rahul waited in the wings to become a PM. She was right in her selection. Good men are not necessarily good leaders and conversely, good leaders are not necessarily good men. Posterity remembers Stalin and Hitler as good leaders but not as good men. Dr Manmohan will be remembered only as a good man—perhaps it is better this way.
Tantum History Mos Tribuo Denique Censura (Only History Will Give The Final Judgement)