In 2004 Sanjaya Baru left a successful career as chief editor of the Financial Express to join Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his media adviser in UPA 1. Singh offered him the job with the words, ‘Sitting here, I know I will be isolated from the outside world. I want you to be my eyes and ears. Tell me what you think I should know, without fear or favor.
The Accidental Prime Minister is Baru’s account of what it was like to ‘manage’ public opinion for Singh while giving us a riveting look at Indian politics as it happened behind the scenes. As Singh’s spin doctor and trusted aide for four years, Baru observed up close Singh’s often troubled relations with his ministers, his cautious equation with Sonia Gandhi and how he handled the big crises from managing the Left to pushing through the nuclear deal. In this book he tells all and draws for the first time a revelatory picture of what it was like for Singh to work in a government that had two centers of power.
Insightful, acute and packed with political gossip, The Accidental Prime Minister is one of the great insider accounts of Indian political life and a superb portrait of the Manmohan Singh era.
Dr Sanjaya Baru, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s media advisor in the United Progressive Alliance 1, is a bit shell-shocked by the outrage from his former office to his book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh.
Moreover, Dr Singh’s daughter Professor Upinder Singh has reacted strongly, too, to her father’
s personal friend of many decades, alleging that it is a huge betrayal by Dr Baru.
As if the book has not suffered enough blows, the Congress issued a five-page press release to keep the issue boiling.
The Congress has tried to rebut the allegations that party President Sonia Gandhi interfered in the government’s running by saying that Dr Baru’s allegations are baseless, and that he never had privileged access or inside knowledge.
When Sonia Gandhi is under attack, the party comes into its own. The most scathing attack against any book in recent memory has come from the party. The press release, signed by the party’s chief spokesperson Ajay Maken, says, ‘On a shaky foundation of planted rumours and gossip, subjective analysis, recollections from personal memory, unsupported by facts or documents let alone objective analysis, Baru constructs a fantastic, fictional narrative in the air full of gigantic, politically motivated sound bites that falsely suggests that the PM was a rubber stamp or that the Congress president interfered in affairs of government.’
Much before the book could be read by the public, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a press release debunking the book, saying it was baseless and mischievous. The PR helped lift the sales of the book in an most unexpected manner. Some 8,000 copies are sold out.
Television anchors, who had refused to hold an exclusive debate on the book in the prime-time news slot, started looking for Dr Baru.
The book is written lucidly and is stuffed with political gossip.
Columnist Jaithirth Rao believes, ‘It is an important contribution to contemporary Indian history; it can also be read as a text-book for those who wish to understand how politics and administration actually work in the India of our time.’
While journalist M K Venu has said, ‘The fact that the book praises Manmohan for the most part, especially his stewardship of the government in spite of all the constraints, also shows Baru’s split emotion toward the PM.’
Actually Dr Baru’s frustration, even anger, comes out more because he was very close to Dr Singh and therefore may have vicariously felt helpless when the prime minister capitulated to the party on many occasions.
The book that may not have been as talked about if it was published after the election, because it narrates more or less known perceptions about the ‘two-centres-of-power’ in the last 10 years of Indian politics as represented by Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi is now the target of Congress fury.
Congressmen are out to defend the prestige of their real leader, not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.