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Zia Haq, Hindustan Times
May 14, 2014
A book by another UPA functionary, Arun Maira, has criticised Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s leadership style, blaming the party for its “monarchical” grip on the Manmohan Singh-led government. Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s book “Redesigning the Aeroplane while Flying: Reforming Institutions”, launched Tuesday, said Sonia “called the shots on all important appointments and policies”.

“It is true Sonia asked Manmohan Singh to lead the government but she had a big say. The (Sonia-led) National Advisory Council was created for that,” Maira told HT.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on the Prime Minister this poll season. Last month, the PM’s former media advisor Sanjaya Baru had alleged in his memoir

“The Accidental Prime Minister” that Singh let his authority to be weakened by Sonia.

The same week, former coal secretary PC Parakh claimed —in his book ‘Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths’ —that Singh was heading a government in which he had “little” political authority. The PM’s office has rejected these claims.

Speaking to HT, Maira said his book wasn’t an account of Sonia’s role, but on India’s unreformed institutions. The three sentences on Sonia in the book have been “blown out of context”, he said.

“The book mentions Sonia in the larger context of the character of our political institutions, which need reforms,” he added.

Asked if it was realistic to expect a PM or the cabinet to function totally independent of the party’s goalposts in a large parliamentary democracy, Maira told HT,
“You are not given the power to hire and fire in the cabinet. But that does not mean you cannot have an aligned cabinet or carry them along.”

Describing Singh’s handling of government affairs as having “one foot on the accelerator and another on the brakes”, Maira said, “Political parties behave like monarchies over elected governments.”

In the Planning Commission, Maira oversaw urbanisation and housing. He was previously chairman of the Boston Consulting Group in India and also served on the boards of some large Indian conglomerates, such as the Tata group.

Maira said the frustrations of the people were the “consequences” of a lack of reforms.  “UPA suffered the consequences of not reforming institutions. People didn’t trust the institutions.”

Singh had called for reform of the plan panel, he said. “The PM himself had said we need a ‘systems reform commission’, rather than one that writes ‘long budget plans’.”