Former aide Baru bares Singh’s ‘spinelessness’
The book is a tell-all memoir of the period that Baru served as media adviser to prime minister Manmohan Singh during UPA-1 government between 2004 and 2008. It largely deals with the sidelining of the prime minister by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her coterie of family retainers. The news of the discomforting excerpts have already invited derisive comments from Pankaj Pachauri, the present media adviser to the prime minister.
Pachauri dismissed the book ‘as an attempt to misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and to apparently exploit it for commercial gains. The commentary smacks of fiction and coloured views of the former advisor.’ In his rebuttal to Pachauri’s statement, Baru told a news channel that he was ‘amused’ and that ‘the statement could have been better drafted.’
Baru draws a pitiable picture of the prime minister within his party saying Singh had no role in deciding his cabinet, allocation of portfolios, giving directions to cabinet meetings and disciplining his colleagues. The book states that the power instead of resting with Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs came to be wielded by a coterie close to the Congress leadership.
Singh, however, manoeuvred his way using the clout of the allies like Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. His most virulent critics were Arjun Singh, Vayalar Ravi and A K Antony. While Arjun Singh’s bitter relations with Singh were in public domain, the role of Antony is quiet a revelation.
While Baru claims that the books appreciates the initiatives of Manmohan Singh in UPA I, it also goes to reflect on how he was ‘defanged’ by the party in the second term with Sonia Gandhi deciding on key appointments to the cabinet and to the PMO as Manmohan Singh ‘surrendered’.
The book quotes Manmohan Singh as saying, ‘That (two centres of power) creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the centre of power. The government is answerable to the party.’ Baru mentions that in 2009 Manmohan Singh committed the mistake of believing that his performance had led the party to victory.
‘Bit by bit, in the space of a few weeks he was defanged. He thought he could induct the ministers he wanted into his team. Sonia nipped that hope in the bud by offering the finance portfolio to Pranab (Mukherjee), without even consulting him,’ Baru writes. Singh had wanted to appoint his principal economic adviser C Rangarajan instead.
The book debunks Sonia’s claim of ‘renouncing’ power and says that while she delegated responsibility to Manmohan Singh, gave him no authority. Baru cites his own case when the PM wanted to reappoint him as a secretary in the PMO after the 2009 victory but had later been informed that this had created problems with the Congress party after which Singh had told him that he could not take him back. ‘To tell the truth, I was dismayed by the PM’s display of spinelessness,’ he says wondering why Singh had succumbed to the pressure to keep him out.