Contrary to the perception, Sanjaya Baru may have done a great favor to his former boss, Dr Manmohan Singh, by writing the memoir on his years as the media adviser to the PM.
I finished reading the book late last night. It is unputdownable, and the Manmohan Singh that emerges from its pages is an intelligent, hard-working, upright man, who navigated the muddy waters of Delhi politics skillfully (with some significant help from Baru himself, the writer seems to suggest) and got India out of the nuclear isolation. He almost sealed a pragmatic and humane deal on Kashmir, but anybody who seeks to solve the K-problem would need enormous amount of luck which he didn't have. What he and Musharraf were proposing? One: borders can't be changed. Two: borders can be made irrelevant. Three: Pakistan and India should evolve a joint mechanism for governance in both parts of the Kashmir, without giving up the ghost of each country's suzerainty. Had this worked out, Singh and his Pakistani counterpart would have surely won the Nobel peace prize. But Musharraf was unseated by judiciary and lawyers in his country. Benazir Bhutto, who would have likely won the elections and succeeded him, was on board for this deal, but she was assassinated.
The prime-ministership of Dr Singh unraveled in the second term. Baru says he urged Singh to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2009. He didn't, and according to Baru it was a great mistake. Dr Singh wanted Baru back in the PMO, but Congress didn't allow that. (The book suggests that during the first term Baru wasn't just a speech-writer and a spin doctor, he was Singh's Man Friday and a trusted adviser on many occasions; his counsel was taken by the PM on some important issues.) He wanted C Rangarajan as the Finance Minister, but Pranab Mukherjee was foisted on him. Pranab didn't even inform the PM before introducing the controversial retrospective taxation in his budget speech. Congress ministers reported to Sonia Gandhi almost every day, but would forget to call on the PM even after returning from crucial visits to Washington. Singh didn't want A Raja in his cabinet in the second term, but he had to back down.
Baru blames Dr Singh for not asserting himself post-2009: who hasn't? After reading the book, Manmohan remains an enigma. Why didn't the old man, who was ready to quit if Congress didn't back him on nuclear deal in 2007, show the same steel later on? Was there an overwhelming sense to gratitude towards Sonia? Baru offers no insight into the reversed evolution of his gentleman boss. May be nobody can. But he certainly repairs Dr Singh's crushed reputation by reminding us what kind of PM he was during the UPA 1, and how he came to be admired inside and outside the country.
If anybody should be furious with Baru, it is the Congress, because he exposes how the party-men never came to terms with the possibility that in Dr Singh they had an excellent alternative to untalented Gandhis. I loath the Gandhi dynasty, for I feel that barring Nehru, the rest of them were petty and lacked talent. (Indira Gandhi was a good foreign minister material, though.) But I also feel that Congress, since Indira Gandhi made it her own courtyard, has never had any alternative. Narsimha Rao couldn't win it the election. Evolution of Dr Singh as a well-respected PM by 2009 was, therefore, a godsend for Congress, but the deity of 10-Janpath couldn't see it, or she was a plain selfish mother.