Millennium Post

Aide You Like It

The reviewers (the ones I have read!) of Sanjaya Baru’s offering The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh have made, possibly unintentionally, an universal mistake. They wanted to get to know about Manmohan Singh, the country’s longest continuously serving prime minister not belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi family. But the book is only partially about Singh.
The book is about Baru, the quasi-academic, quasi-journalist and now, a quasi-strategic thinker. Let us take the first example that comes to my mind. When regime changes take place in the USA, usually the Washington-New York beltway traffic apparently become less crowded, because all its high-powered commuters sit by their telephones in their private offices or homes, whichever is their preferred sanctuary.

From the American biographies of its ‘power elites’, we come to know how they keep waiting for the White House switchboard to find them and utter the (apparently) most prized eight words: ‘The President would like to speak to you.’ Then the man himself comes on line and says, ‘John (can be replaced by Harry too, depending on the callee) the nation needs your services.’  But we get to know from Baru’s book that his early schmoozing with the Indian International Centre’s various power cliques, helped the news about him becoming Singh’s media adviser to flow to him through one of its leading lights ‘who had put in a good word for him.’  So, finally, when the phone came from the real caller, the message was much more prosaic. There was no mention of the nation, people or your invaluable services here. And even then, this former editor of a leading financial daily like the Financial Express informs his super-boss, who was already travelling abroad, that he is ‘decamping,’ the next day’s edition can go to, well you know...

That the super-boss, of course, did not take it kindly was evident only recently at a book launch programme when he recalled that instance, in the presence of Baru amongst the audience. By some quirk, the invitation for the launch had arrived in my mailbox also and I, uncharacteristically, decided to attend – to watch the fun and games that Delhi’s elite indulge in. So if you can imagine that super-boss to be a horse, I can safely say I heard it from the horse’s mouth.

Anyway, that bit is, of course, distracting for my readers. The extant book also reveals George Bernard Shaw right. Remember the Shawesque dictum: ‘Any man who is not a communist at the age of 20 is a fool. Any man who is still a communist at the age of 30 is an even bigger fool.’

It has possibly done more damage to the communist movements of the world than the Nazis, British and American Marines combined. But then one can identify a structural flaw in what Baru says about his Left days: his early training was in the hands of now late, Mohit Sen, who can best be described as an intellectually sharp collaborationist. His other guide, of course, was his father: a member of the civil services and thus a shoo-in into the precincts of the upcoming regional elite of independent India. Baru’s early education was in Hyderabad, which was, most certainly, in incessant upsurge because of continuous communist conflagration. So, he could not have totally ignored it even if he had attempted such a thing.   

Interestingly, his name gained currency in early 1990s, when the media caught a low buzz about he being consulted about strategic issues by the other ‘Telegu Bidda’ Narasimha Rao. Actually, from the book we know that Rao’s wily media adviser, PVRK Prasad was also an uncle, and even Baru’s father worked under Rao in the Andhra Pradesh government.

Okay, that was about all one needs to say Baru’s leftism. But what one finds irritating in the book, besides, of course, all the ‘advice’ he gave to Manmohan Singh, is his attempt at projecting Singh as a Keynesian. As your reviewer had pointed out in one of his fortnightly Monday effusions – the column i.e. – that he is possibly the only Keynesian in the world who got the Adam Simth prize from Oxford. Smith, as you know, was your quintessential laissez faire guy, who practically founded the classical dog-eat-dog economics.

This review will not be complete without talking about Baru’s major claimed accomplishment: of putting the idea of a ‘legacy’ in the mind of Manmohan Singh – it actually makes the latter seem completely ‘ahistorical a prime minister’. But that’s besides the point. This is the strategist Baru making Singh ‘aware’.

In the process was born the civil nuclear agreement with the USA, despite, of course, the ‘perfidy’ – the English language phrase made popular in Delhi by Narasimha Rao after the Babri Masjid demolition – of the likes of Prakash Karat. Sitaram Yechury is marginally better, because he belongs to the ‘Bengal’ group of Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya!

The fact remains that in the process, Baru spills some of the beans – that the negotiations the government was having with Pranab Mukherjee at the helm with the Left Front on the 123 agreement was an elaborate sham. In other words, Manmohan Singh was destroying the credibility his oldest Cabinet minister by making him negotiate with the supportive Left, while all the time seeking to cut him at the knees. And he actually did that when on the way to Japan on an official tour he briefed the accompanying media that he was going ahead with the deal. By then, as Baru says, Singh had found his soulmate, Amar Singh!
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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