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A file photo of Sanjaya Baru former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Photo: Hindustan Times
A file photo of Sanjaya Baru former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Photo: Hindustan Times

History will judge PM’s first term very differently from his second: Sanjaya Baru

Baru says if the Indo-US nuclear deal didn't happen, Manmohan Singh wouldn't have been remembered for anything

New Delhi: Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has stirred up a controversy in the midst of India’s general election with his the book The Accidental Prime Minister: the Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, which says that the authority of the PM’s office was undermined by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The Congress party and the PM’s office have denied the claims made in the book. Baru discusses the book and its revelations in an interview. Edited excerpts:

You mention about dual authority or two centres of power in your book. To what extent do you think decision-making on key policy fronts suffered due to this situation?

The nature of the arrangement was such that Sonia Gandhi was the leader of the party and PM Manmohan Singh was heading the government. And in this arrangement, decisions don’t move without the leader. I don’t think decision-making on key policy issues suffered in UPA (United Progressive Alliance) 1.

The Communists did their bit to justify it. Communist governments world-wide, in the case of China and Soviet Union, reported to their respective party secretaries. In India too, the Left government (of West Bengal) led by Jyoti Basu, would often report to Pramode Dasgupta, the general secretary of the party. But, it was not the case nationally. When Acharya Kripalani as the President of the Congress Party, would ask Jawaharlal Nehru to show him files pertaining to the government, Nehru wouldn’t let him, saying “Sorry, if you want to see the files, become a minister first!"

In the book, you mention that not contesting the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 was the Prime Minister’s biggest mistake. Do you stand by that assessment?

Without doubt. The UPA went back to the people asking for five more years, and the mandate was sought on the basis of Dr. Singh’s track record and performance as Prime Minister. UPA 1 was a great success, and I believe had he contested, he’d have won the election easily. All the Congress party had to do, was to find a safe seat for him and with the popularity wave which he was riding at the time, he would have definitely won. I think not contesting the elections would go down as Dr. Singh’s biggest mistake.

What in your view is the legacy of PM Manmohan Singh, both as leader of UPA 1 and UPA 2? And how will history judge him?

It will only be fair to divide Dr. Singh’s legacy into two parts. UPA 1 was a great success with several important initiatives taken by the government. The economy was growing at close to 8%, some major foreign policy initiatives were taken, and no communal tensions (arose). History will judge his first term very differently from his second. Many Prime Ministers who have served two terms in office run that risk. Indira Gandhi between 1971 and 1977 was revered as “Durga" and in 1977, was extremely unpopular. Nehru’s first term was viewed differently from his second, where the Indo-China war happened. Unfortunately, UPA 2 turned out to be a disaster.

The Indo-US nuclear deal, you suggest in the book, would go down as Dr. Singh’s foremost achievement as the Prime Minister of India. Why?

Firstly, when an elected government had approved such a deal, it had to do everything to keep its word. It would have been wrong for him to back out. It was also one of the few instances where he was allowed to do what he wanted to. If the Indo-US nuclear deal didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have been remembered for anything. Unfortunately, in UPA 2, India’s relations with the US have only blown hot and cold and it has not moved forward either.

You credited the UPA’s 2009 victory to Manmohan Singh. The Congress is going to these elections with its back to the wall. With a defeat likely, who in your view should be held accountable?

In 2009, when the UPA went back to the people asking for a fresh mandate, they gave them another five years. Dr. Singh is retired now, and this time around, I think the elections are not being fought on past issues, but for the future. The Congress has anointed Rahul Gandhi to lead the campaign, and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has picked Narendra Modi as its leader. These elections aren’t going to be about the past, but the way forward.

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