Sanjaya Baru, former media Adviser to the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, has published a book titled The Accidental Prime Minister giving an insider’s view of the running of the government since 2004. There is nothing startling about its contents which were public knowledge and had already been published in articles, comments and views on the social media circuit by public spirited individuals, civil society members, political commentators and economic analysts. All such views were ignored by a prime minister who has proved himself the superb example of using silence as a powerful weapon to frustrate his critics as also his well wishers. There is an old tradition of observing silence for a day or any other period of one’s choice- it is called “Maun vrat”. One important Hindu religious festival is called the “Mauni Amavasya(on the last day of the dark fortnight under the lunar calendar). Silence has also been used by the Congress Party and its Chief but only as a tool to enjoy the fruits of executive authority outside the constitutional scheme of things by not being accountable to anybody, whether the parliament or the public or the media or even judiciary. Such circumvention of the law of the land was unimaginable. Indeed it was worse than the imposition of the Emergency in 1975 by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Indians are extremely slow to react to such unimaginable acts of breach of ethics as it is alien to their genetic material. So the sabotage of the Constitution of India was allowed to continue for full five years without a single agitation against such unlawful regime. The absence of an effective Opposition Party only facilitated the continuance of such a glaring lawless government because political parties and leaders in India hardly ever think beyond elections. The Congress Party made a virtue out of a vice by calling it a sacrifice of Sonia Gandhi by crediting her with the decision not to become the prime minister, as if she was offered the post. Sonia Gandhi could not have become the prime minister of India in 2004 because, excepting for the CPM (Communist Party of India Marxist) propping her up, there was stout opposition to her from almost every political party, including leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Sharad Pawar. I had written in my book about it and categorically stated that she should not aspire to be the prime minister but serve the country as the congress president. When her chances of becoming the prime minister faded, she acted on plan-II kept ready by her coterie playing the game from behind the curtains. She chose and she announced that Dr. Man Mohan Singh would be sworn in as the PM. This decision was not based on merit but other reasons.
Dr Manmohan Singh was never in active politics. In fact he is not known to have uttered even a single sentence about politics. He has been a government servant. There are any number of government officers who could go to any extent to please their bosses. For such employees, there is no law above the boss. Most of such officers have maintained very close connections with the Nehru-Gandhi family in Delhi through their personal staff. They would go to any extent – convey sensitive or vital information to these people, do their unlawful bidding, harass their subordinates to compel them to carry out their unlawful orders or simply look the other way when someone else is doing it, play havoc with recruitment process and appointments or promotions, carry out transfers of officers refusing to fall in line and plastering vigilance cases on the obdurate ones sticking to their own brand of honest public dealings. Many of them come in conflict with others who teach them the right lessons which they had missed out earlier. But there is a very special variety that survives all odds, including change of administrative or political bosses. This they achieve by maintaining such a low profile that it beguiles even the most hawk eyed administrator or minister. They are like that from the very first day they enter government service- their goals are clear and they are determined to achieve them.
They are different from those who want to earn the reputation of being a strong or dead honest public servant or even the most brilliant among all the civil servants. The politician hates and also fears such elements because they are too assertive and bear their superiority on their chest. Such a breed of civil servants used to be there because many in higher positions were born to the British administrative culture. But Indira Gandhi treated all such assertive officers with such contempt that most later batches entered service after getting their spine removed (the catch phrase used to be that bureaucrats crawled when they were asked to only bend). That was the beginning of the era of extremely low profile bureaucrats. It never meant they were less intelligent but only that they were wiser. Sonia failed to become prime minister and could also not make her son the prime minister as he was too immature and diffident for the job. He continues to be like that even after 10 years of intense mentoring by Sonia Gandhi and a bunch of family loyalists. So the need was to find a person who could keep the seat warm for her son to take over as early as possible without any fuss, protest or rebellion. Such qualifications demanded a person possessing adequate professional attributes, unquestionable loyalty to the family, un-ambitious, non-political, submissive, spineless like a government servant and reliable. Clearly Pranab Mukherjee did not meet these requirements. Like him all other politicians failed the test. The choice finally fell on Dr. Manmohan Singh. He not only met most of the qualifications but one added merit. In the context of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, there has always been a real security threat to the family from an angry community. Dr. Manmohan Singh belongs to the Sikh community and it was considered a master stroke to placate the hurt community, win their support back and secure the family from threats from the extremists. Dr. Manmohan Singh was sent only as the night-watchman. By maintaining his low profile even after becoming the prime minister of India, he convinced the congress leadership of trustworthiness. For Dr. Singh, it was undreamt of serendipity. He proved his loyalty to the family by allowing the proxy government of Sonia Gandhi to take all decisions. The nightwatchman stayed on crease not out for not only one term but two consecutive terms by following the sagacious path of the zero resistance to the proxy prime minister. He voluntarily and consciously accepted the role of a de-jure prime minister only, leaving the responsibilities of the government to the de-facto prime minister, Sonia Gandhi. In fact, even Sonia Gandhi alone did not discharge the responsibilities of the prime minister or the government all by herself. She had the same kind of establishment to run the government for her as had happened during the Emergency of 1975. If Dr. Manmohan Singh opted for this unconstitutional format, he alone is answerable and nobody else can bat for him. He had all the options- he could refuse to fall in line or simply resign. He chose to be the rubber stamp prime minister, rather than ruining his career so serendipitously coming his way!
This arrangement cost India too heavy. The period 2004-09 saw open loot and corruption of such magnitude that historic scams were committed, which brought disrepute to the government and sullied the personal image of Dr. Manmohan Singh. The Congress Party took shelter behind the clean personal image of Dr. Singh. True the PM has survived solely on the strength of his personal integrity. In fact, I would go a step further- he drew strength from not being a victim of any of the weaknesses like sex, anger, pride, affection, greed, which are the weakness of the powerful generally. Coupled with his brand of silence, these virtues make him a kind of a Yogi. He who is in control of his sense organs alone is a yogi. But his reputation started getting dented soon because of the corruption of ministers and alliance partner political parties. Prime minister Singh became the target of opposition fire. Even Congress men were not far behind in criticizing the PM covertly or overtly. There was a purpose to it. Intelligent stories were planted in the media to nudge him to vacate the seat for Rahul Gandhi during the later part of the second term 2009-14. By this time Dr. Singh had gained enough personal steam to show signs of intelligent assertion. He started making statements that he would welcome Rahul Gandhi to join his cabinet. It meant he won’t vacate the seat for Rahul Gandhi, as was envisaged by the family and its friends (real beneficiaries). He knew it very well that no scion of the family would ever like to work under any other prime minister. He understood the message repeated several time, but never obliged. He made oblique references to his desire to see Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister, which left it to materialize in future but not immediately. People who understand the regional, caste or community identities of this vast country alone understand such simple sounding statements and their real meaning, whereas the others take them literally.
Dr. Manmohan Singh is not the only former government servant occupying political office. There are dozens of them. However 2 positions need to be mentioned: those of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (two Houses of the Indian parliament), who are ex-bureaucrats. Sanjaya Baru in his book Accidental Prime Minister refers to the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee not showing his budget speech to the prime minister Dr. Singh before completing writing it. But he forgets that Dr. Manmohan Singh while working as the Reserve Bank Governor had been reporting to Pranab Mukherjee ,who was the Finance Minister then. It was only by a quirk of politics that the choice of the prime minister fell on a weak candidate instead of the senior most, experienced, seasoned and trouble shooter politician like Pranab Mukherjee. Luckily Pranab turned the tables on Manmohan Singh and his patrons in the Congress Party by becoming the President of India. Now the prime minister lawfully comes under the president and reports to the President.
This has also spoiled the game plan of the congress party and the family. The plan was to make Dr. Manmohan Singh the President of India, so that Rahul Gandhi could be appointed in his place before election 2014. Pranab Mukherjee did not have the blessings of the family or the party for his elevation. However, political developments in a democracy spoil many games and restore some semblance of health to a sick democracy like India. The stand taken by Ms Mamata Banerji, CM of West Bengal and party president of the Tran Mool Congress (TMC) changed the game completely, delivering Pranab Mukherjee the position of the President of India. This development made Dr. Singh dig his heels. The Congress Party had appointed Rahul Gandhi as the vice president of the party two years ago to announce his arrival and readiness to take over from Manmohan Singh. It didn’t work. Politics is notorious for malicious attacks and Dr. Singh was not spared. Clamour for making Rahul the PM grew louder on the one hand and attacks on Man Mohan Singh became vicious on the other in the backdrop of several scams like CWG, 2G spectrum allocation, coal block allocation etc. The idea is to malign him for inaction to stop corruption, scams or loot and not defending the government vociferously in the parliament and the media. Manmohan Singh adopted the policy of complete silence and it served the family and the party well for so long. Had he started speaking earlier he would have been changed long ago and discredited too as a nincompoop of a prime minister as is done to bureaucrats. Knowing that it is too late to do any harm to Manmohan Singh, the party and the family want to transfer all the blame to him before the results of election 2014 deliver a crushing defeat to the congress party. It will retrieve honour to the family and Sonia for her so called sacrifice of having declined to be the prime minister in 2004. I wonder if she is such a brilliant politician whose services India lost! Sanjaya Baru is quite late in rising to the defence of Dr. Manmohan Singh when he says that all credits were meant to be of Sonia and blame to Manmohan Singh as such was the arrangement under which he was appointed the prime minister. He was struck by his luck and they were happy to make Sonia Gandhi the executive prime minister. Manmohan Singh will have to defend his reputation, if the Congress motor-mouths start spitting on him after losing power by May 2014. Depending on the scale of defeat, new arrangements may be worked out to broker a truce. Otherwise, it could prove disastrous to many people if Dr. Man Mohan Singh chooses to break his silence. He is essentially an academic and a logical mind. He has all the information at his finger tips. He would certainly be in possession of privileged information; may be even documents. He could publish his memoirs or the True Story of UPA Government.
Sanjaya Baru also refers to the Civil Nuclear deal and the threat of resigning by Manmohan Singh. There was no such threat. Manmohan Singh never bared his fangs. The pressure was from America and the Congress Party knew that it had no option other than surrendering to it irrespective of what the leftists were saying. To tame a stubborn left, the government spread the story of the PM thinking of resigning. The leftist, like the second prime minister, have been enjoying unaccounted power under the congress dispensation since 1969 when they extended support to Indira Gandhi, who had split the original Congress Party. In fact, they played the role of the king maker in 2004 by helping formation of a minority government of the Congress by cobbling unethically a majority. Such was the majority of the government that a cash for vote scandal emerged in the parliament when the government sought the confidence vote in 2007 on the civil nuclear deal. The Speaker was from the CPM. As the Speaker’s ruling is final in the House, it will be for historians later to pass judgement on the role of the Speaker in this case. But the government won the vote of confidence by using the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) intelligently to bring on board leaders from opposition parties against whom investigations about disproportionate assets had been pending. There was no question of Dr. Singh asserting his authority by threatening to resign- there is no room for assertion by anybody in the congress dispensation.
It is known and even the PM was aware of it that he was being watched 24×7. The role of the personal staff of the PM or officers in the PMO was only to carry out the orders of the de facto prime minister. Pulok Chatterji was Sonia’s Private Secretary when she was the chairperson of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. The services of TKA Nair were made available to the PM also for similar purpose. There were others to serve the mission. Sonia Gandhi was formally accorded the official status of a Cabinet Minister in her capacity of Chairperson of the NAC (National Advisory Council)- a crooked contraption to cover up the operation of the de facto prime minister. This council had several retired secretaries to the government of India in its secretariat. Officers from almost every prominent ministry were available either formally or informally to the secretariat of the NAC. Serving secretaries were smart enough to devise mechanism to seek Sonia’s approval on file by sending a copy of the note to the NAC secretariat “informally”. If it was approved the file was approved by the de jure PM. So the charge that Sonia approved files which were only signed by Manmohan Singh is right, but at the same time the clarification given by the PMO is also right that no files were sent to Sonia Gandhi. How can two different things be right? It is right when the mechanism devised is appreciated. It was not possible for Dr Manmohan Singh to change this arrangement without risking his position. This arrangement strengthened the view that India did not need a Prime Minister, and it could be run by a handful of bureaucrats loyal to the family. It will be changed only if the congress suffers defeat in the election.
There would be no dearth of people who would under estimate Dr Manmohan Singh. He is no dumb man. He is smarter than all the politicians in all the parties. He managed to land in the highest position by his smart maneuvering. He knew the limitations under which he was working. But he knows the art of using the power of the opponent to score a victory as in kung fu. The Congress Party kept him under 24 hours surveillance and he mounted counter surveillance on all of them. He used his weapon of silence to cause sonic boom in the party quarter (the scams for which the blame went to Sonia as the personal integrity of Manmohan Singh was never questioned). He gave so much of a long rope to every corrupt minister, bureaucrat, party politician that the congress accumulated only discredit for every act of corruption. So much so that the success of the IAC (India Against Corruption) movement was due to the public disgust for the acts corruption by the congress party led by Sonia Gandhi. The advocates of the party came to be despised by the people as defenders of the corrupt. The Delhi Chief Minister of the Congress was severely punished along with the party when they were reduced to just 8 members in an assembly of 70 members last December. Who sucked whom? Manmohan Singh emerged unscathed while Sonia got all the blame for the historic corruption of the past 10 years. It would be against the logic of real politics to imagine that Manmohan Singh would have been allowed to go down in history as an economist prime minister, who proved superior to even Jawahar Lal Nehru. Not even small regional parties encourage second line of leadership to emerge, what to talk of the Congress Party. The party recognizes none other than Rahul Gandhi as their leader. To rob him of any sheen of an economist, he was lured to walk into the trap of inflation, price rise, loss of people’s purchasing power, corruption, black money and profligacy so that he may devote his time giving clarifications on these economic fundamentals after demitting office. If he ever tried to put the blame on the de facto prime minister, he could be hauled up for destroying the chances of the party’s victory by poor management of the economy and the government. While they served their personal interests very well, the people suffered misery in the past 10 years. The nation suffered a loss of image as it came to be known as a corrupt country in the world. The constitutional scheme of government suffered. Democracy suffered and all institutions of the government suffered. The loss is immense. It will be worth several zillions if correctly worked out.
The only solace is that Dr. Manmohan Singh has accidentally kept several king makers dreaming of becoming the prime minister away from the South Block!

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