Sanjaya Baru , Manmohan Singh’s first media advisor, gets bad-mouthed by Congress Party leaders about what he has written about Dr Manmohan Singh but the book is really more about the author himself
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s reaction to The Accidental Prime Minister, a book that draws upon Dr Sanjaya Baru’s stint as media advisor to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh in UPA-1 (United Progressive Alliance) was this: “Greed, commercial profit, betrayal, ambition and sensationalism all coalesced into a very, very unsavoury cocktail.”
This statement and many versions of it, probably, encouraged thousands of people, who rarely read a book, to buy it. I did too. Well, I am the wrong example; I would have bought it anyway, since Dr Baru was a colleague in the past and I was an admirer of Dr Singh. Meanwhile, the Congress Party’s virulent reaction, another example of extremely poor strategy and judgement during election time, ensured plenty of publicity for Dr Baru and his book.
But those who grabbed a copy of The Accidental Prime Minister hoping for some hot gossip about the powerful Delhi durbar are bound to be disappointed. The book is less about Dr Manmohan Singh and more about Dr Baru’s stint at the PMO where, he says he had, not just a ringside view to the most important decisions that affected India, but a role in shaping them. He tells us how he was the first to float the idea of Dr Singh’s suitability as PM and Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia probably owes him a ‘thank you’ for the Planning Commission job!
The book is as glowing an account as one can write about a man whose chief qualification for being appointed the PM was that he would self-effacingly defer to Sonia Gandhi every time and could be trusted not to play politics. That he also happened to be a decent human being, personally non-corrupt and a highly qualified economist who could engage with the best of minds in the world on equal terms, were only a bonus for the Gandhi family. Such a person is rare, especially when you consider that he has never uttered a word about all the ridicule heaped on him in UPA’s second term.
The Congress Party’s harsh reaction only turned the spotlight on what was known to the Delhi media for 10 long years. Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to the PM, was seen as a trusted emissary of Sonia Gandhi. In 2008, a joint secretary in the finance ministry (now an additional secretary) told me, “in this government, it is possible that the PM’s instructions would be ignored but not Mr Chatterjee’s—those are taken most seriously.” Every editor and anchor who interviewed Dr Baru about his book would have witnessed this power equation hundreds of times, just as they saw the National Advisory Council (NAC) behaving like a shadow Cabinet, until several members over-reached themselves and it slowly lost its relevance.
Is it any secret that Sonia Gandhi decided Cabinet appointments? Or that Rahul Gandhi was being groomed for prime ministership; often at Dr Singh’s cost? The dubious episode of Rahul Gandhi storming into Ajay Maken’s press briefing to talk about tearing up an ordinance proposed by his own government (while the PM was touring the US) had even upset several senior Congressmen who were no supporters of the PM.
Congress Party’s vituperative reaction to Dr Baru seems triggered by his claim that the PM was ‘defanged’ because he made “the cardinal mistake of imagining the victory was his” in 2009. And that is where a lot of what Dr Baru says is pure speculation. Was 2009 really a victory? It was a badly cobbled alliance, where the arrogant Left Front was replaced by a bunch of extremely corrupt and shady partners.
The fact is, neither Dr Singh nor anyone in the PMO nor Congress leaders expected to come back to power. Most people in the PMO had already made their exit plans. The powerful Pulok Chatterjee landed a very cushy post with the International Monetary Fund. The Congress itself was busy ensuring that key appointments, including those in the judiciary, were packed with loyalists who would protect their interest against a new non-Congress government.
Interestingly, Dr Baru does not explain why he chose to leave on a teaching assignment at Singapore before the 2009 elections. In fact, the dastardly terror attack on Mumbai’s Taj Mahal and Oberoi Hotels on 26 November 2008, do not even find a mention in the book, because Dr Baru was in Singapore when it happened.
The attack, for the first time, brought Mumbai’s rich and powerful face-to-face with poor national security. While there was seething anger against the Congress for the ineffectual manner in which it dealt with the attack, it also forced many business houses to support a stable government in Delhi rather than a hodgepodge coalition led by a deeply divided Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
There was also the stark realisation that we had no sensible alternative. It triggered a lot of thinking and, probably, sowed the seeds of initial support for an alternative like India Against Corruption, and its splinter group, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This important phase, including what influenced the electorate, finds no mention in the book.
As it turns out, the Congress returned to power in 2009 and Dr Baru says, the PM believed he was the architect of that victory. Dr Baru was offered a more powerful post in the PMO for which he came back to India. But this job failed to materialise, making him feel hurt and betrayed. Dr Baru did not want to be a mere ‘media advisor’ in UPA-2. But the PM offered to make him a member of the Planning Commission with a minister of state rank, but it was apparently not good enough. Instead, Dr Baru opted to cool his heels, playing second fiddle to TN Ninan at Business Standard.
Harish Khare, Dr Baru’s successor at the PMO, has tried to demolish Dr Baru’s claims about his role and importance. He describes the post of the media advisor as that of a ‘Grand Nobody’. That, too, is untrue and unfair. For starters, the job does not provide the opportunity to become a ‘co-prime minister’ (which is how Mr Khare labels Dr Baru’s posturing) but it certainly goes to someone with plenty of powerful connections. And here, Sanjaya Baru goes to some length to explain his close connections, and those of his wife’s family, to the power-elite and intellectuals in Delhi. Dr Baru had great access to prime minister PV Narasimha Rao through is father, who was a well-regarded chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh. Remember, it was Narasimha Rao who made
Dr Singh the finance minister in 1991. These connections surely played a role in Dr Baru’s selection as media advisor, although he had no truck with mainstream language publications or the increasingly powerful television channels. There is no mention of the teething troubles he faced with the media on this account.
A media advisor is far from a ‘grand nobody’. A smart advisor knows how to play favourites and control the media simply by providing, or denying, access, handing out invitations to State events and junkets or enabling formal and informal meetings. Even a PRO at the Reserve Bank of India has used this power with deadly effect for 23 years; so you can imagine how much more powerful the PM’s media advisor would be; he has many more goodies to dole out. The unhindered access to the PM and the ability to influence his opinion has captains of industry, business consultants, chairmen of banks and public sector undertakings, ministers, bureaucrats and a variety of social climbers, lobbyists and journalists pay obeisance to the man in that job. Dr Baru understood this power and revelled in it.
This book is an attempt to put this perspective by limiting the narrative to what he sees as the glory days of UPA-1 with a central role for himself in the story. If the Congress hadn’t gone ballistic about the book, it would have been just another addition to scores of memoirs published by puffed up bureaucrats who feel lost without the glory of their once-powerful posts.
Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]
Evidence is required to prove why did the Election Commissioner apologise and for what? Instead of a mere sorry, MS Brahma should put up details on the website and ask the Collector of Pune to take up suo motu revision
It’s shocking that Election Commissioner HS Brahma has merely admitted to “lapse on its part” and issues an oral public apology. A report in DNA dated 26th April, quotes him as saying, “I must apologise and regret that the names of such a large number of voters have not been found in the list. It’s a very, very massive operational mistake which should not happened.”
Surely, such a huge 'mistake' demands more than an apology, which incidentally happened only after the Mumbai furore (he didn’t bother about the fact that 4.23 lakh odd names of voters (about 24%) from Pune Lok Sabha constituency alone had been deleted a week before Mumbai went to polls) and that too, after a hue and cry, by people and media. What about action in terms of providing public explanation of what exactly was the nature of the mess? Or providing opportunity to voters, who for no fault of theirs were deprived from voting, since this was an unprecedented colossal administrative or any other lapse?
Now, the issue is being pushed under the carpet, with former chief election commissioners like Navin Chawla patting the back of Mr Brahma for saying sorry in public, through television debates. And now, the onus is being put on the citizens whose names have been deleted, to come forward and lodge an official complaint regarding their missing names at the relevant election office or go to court or do andolans. Surely, every voter whose name has been deleted or omitted MUST take up the responsibility and fight for the injustice meted out to him or her.
Besides lodging a complaint, citizens must use Section 6 and Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to procure documents, to know the procedure that led to the deletion of their names. Understandably, many citizens would feel irritated that instead of the Election Commission and the district election authorities immediately embarking upon the necessary corrective, the citizens are being made to work again towards restoring their name in the list. However, since our democracy is so slothful, it is our voices, in large numbers, that will bring it back to vibrancy. Otherwise, bureaucrats and politicians are waiting for public memory to fade, which does quickly. (Please find here a link which will give you samples of the complaint form, application form of Section 6 as well as Section 4 of the RTI Act: )
However, the government too MUST suo motu ensure action from its side. Former divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Karandikar points fingers towards the Election Registration Officers stating that, “When names of the voters, who have been voting for the last few occasions [and living at the same address], go missing or when names of some members of a family remain intact but names of other members [living at the same address] get deleted, the Electoral Registration Officers are clearly at fault.’’
Karandikar has a recommendation for adding back the names without involving every voter whose name was deleted. He states, “the Collectors, media and the political parties have received such complaints in large number. It would be adding insult to injury to ask the complainants to file fresh applications in Form 6 for inclusion of their names. It is equally unfair to ask the aggrieved voters to file appeals under Registration of Electors Rules 1960 against the deletion orders passed by the EROs.’’
Karandikar suggests that the Collector, who is a District Election Officer, should take up ERO’s orders for suo motu Revision. “This will at least show the electoral machinery’s sensitivity to the plight of innocent voters. The social activists, media and the political parties, who have raised their voices against the bungling in preparation of Electoral Rolls, should insist that the District Collectors behave proactively and use their discretionary powers in order to deliver justice,” he says.
In the meanwhile, citizens must fight for justice, just as Sandhya Gokhale and Amol Palekar are pursuing in an admirably scientific and legal fashion. Only, they want to do it without making noise. Good enough.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
There is the fear that a total ban on mining of iron ore in Odisha would practically cripple the iron and steel industry in the country
Odisha is India's largest iron ore producer, accounting for nearly 45% of production of 145 million tonnes. Besides iron ore, it is also the large producer of chrome and bauxite. There is the fear that a total ban on mining of iron ore in Odisha would practically cripple the iron and steel industry in the country.
It is generally believed that more than 100 illegal mining operations are being carried out in Odisha leading to environmental degradation. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court lifted the ban on iron ore mining in Karnataka a few months ago, and the industry is limping back, though normalcy will take a few months more to achieve. In the meantime, only a few weeks ago, iron ore mining operations in Goa was lifted, though with conditions, where the industry feels that it would be a good six months or so before some semblance of normalcy can be expected there. As reported in Moneylife earlier, there are chances that the cap of 20 million tonnes may be increased taking into consideration the overall impact in the country.
Today, Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, on behalf of NGO Common Cause will seek a temporary ban on Odisha mines that do not have clearances. It may be borne in mind that a total ban would hurt the domestic industry and lead to needless imports; and even if this should occur, it would be atleast 60/90 days before imported ore can reach India, during which time, the steel industry would suffer, and thousands would be unemployed, for no fault of theirs!
The state government is expected to meet the Central Empowered Committee that has been appointed by the Supreme Court to decide what interim orders could be issued.
MB Shah Commission recommendations, it may be recalled, seeks a closure of all illegal mining operations. Penalties imposed on defaulters be directed towards welfare of tribals and villagers. Petition also seeks for a CBI probe into mining and for restoration of revegetation and natural surroundings. Besides, it seeks all mined ores to be traced electronically and sold through e-auctions!
Based on the petition submitted by Prashant Bhushan, NGO Common Cause, the Supreme Court has given four weeks to both central and state governments to file their replies. It has also directed the Court appointed Central Empowered Committee to prepare and submit an interim report on mining in Odisha and also submit a list of miners who have been operating in the State without proper environmental and forest clearances. On all these matters, the Court will be hearing the case today for the interim order.
India's largest FDI of Rs52,000 crore covering the POSCO Steel plant, to be set up to produce 12 million tonnes of steel at Jagatsinghpur is stuck for the last eight years due to regulatory hurdles and delays in land acquisition. The Centre has asked the state government to resolve these issues without delay!
In the case of Jindal Steel & Power Ltd, the Odisha Directorate of Mines has ordered the closure of Sarda Mines Private Ltd's Thakurani mines, owing to expiration of environmental clearance, as on 1st April 2014, effectively cutting off supplies to JSPL, which sources all the iron ore produced in these mines!
It may be noted that JSPL was sourcing these iron ore fines for its 5 million tonnes pellet plant at Barbil in Odisha and lumpy ore for its 3 mt steel plant at Raigad in Chhatisgarh. Luckily for JSPL, it has adequate stocks on hand and the inventory is estimated at 15 million tonnes, which will be presumably transported to the pellet plant, until the formalities are completed.
One other issue that would also need government assistance is the clearance for companies working on "deemed leases". If the state government gives preference to original lease holders, the industry may be relieved but if new bidding process is to be held, this would be time consuming and may delay the starting of the mining operations, once they come to a stop.
India's export of iron ore fines has gone down to 16 million tonnes in 2013 against 108 mt in 2010. Compare to this poor performance, Australia exports 600 million tonnes, while Brazil runs second at 300 million tonnes.
Now the issue at stake is not how much India can export. What is of paramount importance is to keep the Indian steel industry going. We must remember that it took months when mining activity came to a stand still in both Karnataka and Goa. As we mentioned before, Karnataka has not yet realised its full potential, while Goa would take another six months or so before some activity can be seen, since a lot of formalities have to be completed for the existing mine owners, particularly those who have proper documentation and clearances. Of course, it is imperative that illegal mining activity must be stopped; but those with the least "lapses" in terms of compliance of formalities should be permitted to commence their operations.
A total ban would affect the industry and thousands employed, besides loss of revenue for the country.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)