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Mainstream, VOL LII No 18; April 26, 2014

Is Manmohan Singh as Innocent as Sanjay Baru Makes Out?

Tuesday 29 April 2014, by Barun Das Gupta


Sanjay Baru’s controversial book (The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, Penguin India) portrays the Prime Minister as a helpless minion in the hands of Congress President and UPA chair-person Sonia Gandhi. Baru was the PM’s media adviser and chief spokesperson from May 2004 to August, 2008. Which means that he left that post before the 2009 general elections which brought the UPA to power for the second time.

The question that arises is: why did he remain silent for six long years and release his book on the eve of 16th Lok Sabha elecltions—that is, at a time when the Congress and UPA were fighting, it would seem, a losing battle against the Narendra Modi-led BJP? BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley would have us believe that it is the content of the book rather than its time of publication which is important and this is what really matters.

Nobody with a modicum of political under-standing would agree with Jaitley that timing is of no consequence. Would Jaitley and others of his saffron fraternity agree that the timing of the Congress’ release of a several year old videotape showing Uma Bharati criticising Narendra Modi as a Vinash Purush rather than a Vikaksh Purush in the midst of the poll campaign has no significance, only what she said is important?

What Baru would have his readers believe is that Manmohan was (and is) a Prime Minister only in name. He did not have real power. The real power was wielded by Sonia. Important and sensitive files, Baru tells us, used to be sent to Sonia by Pulok Chatterjee, a senior bureaucrat, and vetted by her before the files were sent to the PM for his perusal and instruction. The policies of the UPA Government were decided by Sonia, not by Manmohan. He was a helpless observer.

The first question that arises is: if Baru’s portrayal of Manmohan Singh is true, why did the PM suffer this humiliation for ten long years? Anyone with a modicum of self-respect would have immediately resigned and got out when he found he had no real powers. If somebody wants to be a willing servitor of someone else, can anybody object to it? It may be recalled that on July 25, 1982, immediately after taking oath as the President, Gyani Zail Singh had said: “If my leader (Indira Gandhi) had asked me to take a broom and become a jhadudar I would have done so. But she chose to make me the President.”

Secondly, when Manmohan found that several Ministers in his Cabinet were involved in mega-size corruptions, swindling the public exchequer of lakhs of crores of rupees, why did he first deny any knowledge of what was going on right under his eyes and then, after the Supreme Court snubbed him, admit that he knew but ‘in running a coalition there are some compulsions’ which had to be accepted? Why did he play a collusive role after he knew of the loot? When he found he had no control over his ministers, why did he not resign then and there? These are the questions that Manmohan will have to answer. Sanjay Baru cannot save him.

The third and most important point is that the biggest ever electoral disaster that is staring the Congress in the face now is due to the neo-liberal economic policy that Manmohan Singh introduced as the Finance Minisiter in Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s Cabinet in 1991.

Sonia Gandhi was nowhere near political power at that time. It is this policy that has messed up the national economy, given rise to unbridled price rise of all commodities, given birth to crony capitalism and its inevitable consequence, the mega corruptions, and brought untold privation on the people. Manmohan has followed this policy with undiminished zeal, regardless of its consequences.

It is also pertinent to recall that Sonia was against Rajiv’s coming to politics. After Sanjay’s death, when Indira Gandhi brought Rajiv into politics, Sonia was not happy. After Rajiv’s death in 1991 when Congressmen started raising the slogan Sonia lao, desh bachao, she did not respond. She responded in 1998—after seven long years. Under what circumstances? Under the ‘able’ leadership of Sitaram Kesri there was a wave of desertion of Congress leaders from the party. Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot, Jayanti Natarajan, Mamata Banerjee, P. Chidamabaram, G. K. Moopanar—all left the Congress. The 113-year-old Congress party at that time seemed to be in its death throes. Sonia could not calmly watch her husband’s and her mother-in-law’s grand old party die out. She agreed to join the Congress. Immediately, the desertions stopped. Except Mamata Banerjee, all others who had left the party, came back. Sitaram Kesri was shown the door. Sonia became the Congress President.

Then came the 2004 general elections when, riding on a seeming ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good’ wave and banking on Vajpayee’s personality, the BJP was expecting to win three hundred seats on its own. How Sonia at that time carried on a nationwide campaign for the Congress, almost single-handedly, and brought the Congress back to power is history. Her political acumen lay in understanding the limitations of the Congress fighting alone and the imperatives of forming a coalition of like-minded parties. Thus was the UPA born. Manmohan Singh cannot claim an iota of credit for the Congress victory in 2004.

But even after becoming the Prime Minister, courtesy Sonia, Manmohan persisted in following his neo-liberal policy at the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—two arms of Washington—to perpetuate US domination of the Third World countries. Sonia Gandhi is not an economist and she has never made any such claim. Manmohan, on the other hand, is reputed to be an eminent economist. Sonia entrusted him with the responsibility of running the country.

Sanjay Baru would have us believe that Manmohan was a dumb doll in the hands of Sonia. Really, Mr Baru? Pray, tell us who initiated and concluded the deal with the United States on civil nuclear cooperation—Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi? When the CPI-M and other Left parties supporting the UPA from outside, opposed the nuclear deal with the US tooth and nail and threatened to withdraw support to the UPA Government on this issue, Sonia suggested that the Prime Minister rather not go on with the deal than alienating the Left and antagonising them on this issue. Manmohan’s response was that if he was not given a free hand in finalising the nuclear deal, he would resign. Sonia had no alternative other than to give in.

Having led the Congress to the brink of defeat, disaster, ignominy and worse, it does not lie in the mouth of former courtiers like Baru to say that Manmohan Singh was a bechara Prime Minister who meekly agreed to be Sonia Gandhi’s public face. There would be few takers for Baru’s defence of the Prime Minister.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.