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Parakh’s book, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, on the so-called scam in coal block allocations, alleged that prime minister Manmohan Singh’s authority in determining the way in which coal mines should be allotted had been undermined by two ministers in 2004. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Parakh’s book, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, on the so-called scam in coal block allocations, alleged that prime minister Manmohan Singh’s authority in determining the way in which coal mines should be allotted had been undermined by two ministers in 2004. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Insiders’ books on Manmohan Singh spell trouble for Congress

Books by Sanjaya Baru, P.C. Parakh leave party on backfoot ahead of crucial round of voting

New Delhi: The Congress is back in familiar territory: fire fighting. Tomes just published by two former insiders in the government have put the spotlight back on the governance record of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

And this just days before the fifth phase of polling in the general election on 17 April, which will see voting for 122 seats spread across key states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

While the weekend was dominated by Sanjaya Baru’s book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, which alleged that the separation of political and executive powers had hamstrung Singh, on Monday, it was the turn of former coal secretary P. C. Parakh to grab the limelight.

Parakh’s book, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, on the so-called scam in coal block allocations, alleged that the prime minister’s authority in determining the way in which coal mines should be allotted had been undermined by two ministers in 2004—coal minister Shibu Soren and minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to try and exploit the contents of the two books to its political advantage even as the Congress had to work overtime to mitigate the political damage.

At the same time, the controversies also helped the BJP, by distracting critics who targeted its prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi for correcting his previous error of omission—leaving out details about his wife—in the affidavit filed with his nomination papers for the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat.

On Monday, at his rallies in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, Modi attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi for belittling the constitutional office of the prime minister.

“Babasaheb Ambedkar gave us freedom of speech but such is Congress that prime minister himself lost this right. Who in Congress snatched this right from him?" Modi said during his day-long visit to Uttar Pradesh and to Sikar, Rajasthan, on the birthday of B.R. Ambedkar, the Dalit icon who framed the Indian constitution.

The Congress, which is seeking a third consecutive term in power, has been embroiled in a series of corruption allegations against its senior leaders and cabinet ministers even as it has been criticized for mishandling the economy, especially its inability to contain inflation.

Experts feel the two books will add to the political damage for the Congress.

“It is so obvious that these two books are bad news for the Congress party, it adds to the difficulties of the party and proves all that the opposition has been saying. In a way it hurts a party which is already going through difficult times," N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said.

“It pushes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to one corner...What is more damaging is that it exposes the claim of (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi being a sacrificer; this is something which will hurt not just the morale of ground workers but also leaders of the party," he added.

The reference to sacrificer was an allusion to Sonia Gandhi anointing Manmohan Singh as the prime minister in 2004 despite a clamour from the Congress party that she ascend to the highest executive office.

Rao also said that the books were a “direct attack" on the functioning of the government and provides “new ammunition" to the BJP.

Not surprisingly, the BJP has held up the books as a confirmation of its allegation that Manmohan Singh has been India’s weakest prime minister—one who failed to quell corruption within his own government. BJP had levelled similar attacks against Manmohan Singh before the 2009 general election the main opposition party fought under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani.

“What was earlier considered allegations made by BJP is now getting confirmed that Manmohan Singh remained silent when large-scale corruption was going on...It is now proved that Manmohan Singh was heading the government only in name but it was Sonia Gandhi who was running the country," said Sidharth Nath Singh, a BJP politician.

Analysts said that while this fresh ammunition will only appeal to a limited English-literate audience who will read the books, they give the opposition the opportunity to target both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

“This is a minor issue because the books are for English-speaking audience. This is one more ammunition for the BJP and other opposition parties to target Congress led-UPA. The BJP will also find it difficult to take advantage because the books are in English and the opposition party will find it difficult to take this issue to the people," said Suhas Palshikar, a Pune-based political analyst.

Apart from the BJP, the Left parties too are likely to step up their attack against the ruling party on the basis of these two books.

“These two books expose the Prime Minister, the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) and leaders from the ruling party. They were insiders and so it makes it even difficult to dismiss the charges. Now it is actually up to the Prime Minister to explain," D. Raja, a leader of the Communist Party of India, said.

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