Monday, April 21, 2014
It is easy to say that two new books have "betrayed" Manmohan Singh. Sanjay Baru was a confidant of the Prime Minister while P.C. Parakh was Coal Ministry Secretary when the coal scam scarred the country. But their books are not political exercises. They are recordings of information by professionals who found themselves witnesses to action. Books by such insiders -- one by former Comptroller & Auditor General Vinod Rai is eagerly awaited -- are the stuff of history and would be so hailed by civilised society.
Baru's pages are essentially empathetic. He cites chapter and verse to show how Sonia Gandhi often usurped the powers of the Prime Minister. Parakh shows how passivity can also be culpability at times. Overall, we can see that Manmohan Singh was not always a passive puppet in the hands of a scheming Sonia Gandhi. He could be quite scheming himself when an issue dear to his heart came up. The passing of the US nuclear treaty is the most quoted example. Almost all parties including sections of his own were against it, but the Prime Minister stuck to his guns and had his way. So did he with FDI in retail which was, and still is, opposed by most states. He used craftiness, guile and every ounce of power at his disposal to push these measures through. Recent reports suggest that it was Manmohan Singh's willpower that allowed field trial of GM (genetically modified) crops in defiance of prevalent government policy, public opinion, experts' advice and even the legal rub of the matter being before the Supreme Court. It cannot be an accident that all three subjects are America's core policy priorities in India.
America wants US equipment suppliers to be not accountable if something goes wrong with a nuclear installation (like Union Carbide refused to be accountable for the Bhopal gas disaster). FDI in retail is unacceptable to many for fear that foreign monopolies will disrupt India's grassroot economics. GM crops trials have come to mean domination by companies like Monsanto. Seeds technologies developed by India's own agricultural research institutes are ignored. Manmohan Singh chose to dismiss the warnings of molecular scientist Pushpa Bhargava who told him in 2008 that "India would cease to be a free country if its agriculture is brought under the control of foreign multinational companies". This is a powerful Prime Minister who knows how to get what he wants if he wants it badly enough.
So, how come he did not want to fight corruption badly enough? The biggest scams in the history of India unfolded under his nose, but he didn't seem to care. Even when the economy took a nosedive, the great economist in him didn't seem to care. Did he ignore corruption because the highest in the land were neck-deep in it? Was he under pressure from family and friends to keep the chair for the trappings that went with it? The questions that rose around Manmohan Singh wrecked his reputation.
Baru and Parakh have merely provided confirmatory details of what was public knowledge. Parakh said, for example, that Manmohan Singh was in favour of auctioning coal blocks, but didn't care when "junior coal ministers" Shibu Soren and Dasari Narayan Rao overruled him. Similarly Baru explains how the PM lost his importance when the PMO was stuffed by Sonia Gandhi's flatterers -- M.K.Narayanan who kept friend and foe in line by announcing "I have a file on you", and Pulok Chatterjee to whom India was the same as the Gandhis.
What is needed, for India's sake, is a factual professionally written insider view on Sonia Gandhi's handling of power, how she turned India into her private fiefdom, how great leaders became her courtiers. No political aide is man enough to do it, and she is not woman enough to let an independent person do it -- like V.S. Naipaul let Patrick French do his "authorised" biography, though he didn't approve of the book in the end. But we shall not lose heart. That book will one day be written. India has a way of prevailing.