The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru

The memoirs of Sanjaya Baru, ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh’ generated a lot of controversy. The PMO released a statement on the book, “It is an attempt to misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and to apparently exploit it for commercial gain. The commentary smacks of fiction and coloured views of a former adviser.” Obviously the book flew off the stands in the first few days days of its release.

The Accidental Prime Minister
The Accidental Prime Minister

When we pick up a book, we often form a preconceived notion about the book and its characters, if it’s non-fiction. I too did the same. For the past ten years India has witnessed an unusual phenomenon on its political horizon. After its independence, India’s political scene has often been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family, directly or indirectly. But the last ten years India was governed by an almost non-existent Prime Minister. Those who keep a tab on political happenings, often find that our “nominated” Prime Minister is burdened with responsibilities, and power is enjoyed by someone else.

When I started reading this book, I too was filled with the preconceived notion about the Prime Minister being a meek, submissive, “bending backwards to please the Congress party president” type of a person. But reading Sanjaya Baru’s memoir told me a different tale. He was the media adviser to Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, since 2004 to 2008. It is an insider’s account of a rare happening in a complex political scenario. After staying out of power, the Congress was back, though not with a thumping majority. But it was in a position to form a coalition government. Sonia Gandhi, being an Italian born, couldn’t become India’s Prime Minister. Her son Rahul Gandhi was lurking somewhere on the horizon of the political sky but not at the center. Everyone was curious, that who will be India’s Prime Minister.

When, Manmohan Singh was ‘nominated’ as PM by Sonia Gandhi, the reaction was mixed. Because Singh, despite being a part of India’s political party, was still an apolitical person. He was a successful Finance Minister of India under Narasimha Rao. But he never created and nurtured a political base for himself. Singh was not a popular leader and never popular with masses. He was viewed as more of an academician than a politician. Earlier he was considered as a scholar Prime Minister.

But how life flows in the political corridors of Delhi is an entirely different scenario. Here nothing is black and white. Nothing is clear cut and falls in a well-defined category. According to Baru, when the Congress Party President showed her unwillingness to concede ‘do gaz zameen’ in Delhi to a dead ex-PM Narasimha Rao, it impacted the current PM, Manmohan Singh, deeply. Rao’s dead body had to be flown back to his native place. He somewhat took the cue whose lines he had to toe and what lies ahead of him. It was clear to him, how Congress Party President deals with those who have a mind of their own.

Here is how, Baru described the scenario in his book,

“Narasimha Rao’s children wanted the former PM to be cremated in Delhi, like other Congress prime ministers. Impressive memorials had been built for Nehru, Indira and Rajiv at the places where they had been cremated along the river Yamuna, adjacent to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial. Even former prime minister Charan Singh, who had not belonged to the Congress, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was only an MP, had been cremated and memorialized in the vicinity. However, Patel wanted me to encourage Narasimha Rao’s sons, Ranga and Prabhakar, and his daughter, Vani, to take their father’s body to Hyderabad for cremation. Clearly, it seemed to me, Sonia did not want a memorial for Rao anywhere in Delhi.

Interestingly, in 2007, the Congress party tried a replay of this stratagem with the family of former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, persuading them to take the body of the former PM to his farm at Bhondsi in Haryana. However, Chandra Shekhar’s son insisted that the family would go to Delhi’s Lodi Crematorium if the former PM was not given a proper state funeral in Delhi. The government fell in line and Chandra Shekhar was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna at a spot designated Ekta Sthal.”

The book is an interesting journey of a Prime Minister who knew he had to remain in the shadows of the Gandhis and still he wanted to deliver. How difficult the task of a media manager would be under the given scenario? He couldn’t thrust the Prime Minister under the limelight and as a person who can deliver! If you can, read this book, you won’t be disappointed.

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