Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks on the last day of the winter session of the 15th Lok Sabha in New Delhi. (PTI file photo)
In a candid admission that would give ammunition to UPA critics in the poll season, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is quoted in a book, written by his former media adviser, as saying that the system of two power centres could not work and he had "to accept that the party president (Sonia Gandhi) is the centre of power".
“I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of power. That creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the centre of power. The government is answerable to the party,” Singh told his former media adviser, Sanjay Baru, soon after being re-elected in 2009.
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In an account of his years in the Prime Minister’s Office, The Accidental Prime Minister – The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, Baru has detailed the complex relationship between the PM and Sonia Gandhi. He has written about the PM's allies and antagonists in the cabinet, exposed the policy battles in the PMO and said there was jostling to give credit to the party instead of the PM for policy initiatives.
The book hit the stands on Friday. Baru now works with a think tank.
Baru noted that a failure in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections would have been pinned on the PM while success was appropriated by the Nehru-Gandhi family and claimed that Singh was 'defanged' after the 2009 electoral success with Gandhi deciding on cabinet portfolios against his wishes.
The PMO has, however, said the book “smacks of fiction”, and dismissed it as an attempt to “misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and exploit it for commercial gain”. Responding to the statement, Baru told HT, “I don't want to comment on what the PMO has said about the book. They should read the book first. There is nothing fictional or hypothetical about anything that I have written. Anyone who reads the book will know that this is not fiction at all."
The book claims that Singh was a different man during the first term of the UPA government.
After Gandhi said the survival of the government took precedence over the nuclear deal at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in 2007, Singh told two interlocutors – late K Subrahmanyam and Baru's father: "She has let me down."
In June 2008, the PM issued an ultimatum to Sonia – ‘ignore the Left and proceed, or agree with the Left and stay put’. If it was the latter, she would have to find another PM. Sonia used intermediaries such as the PM's confidante Montek Singh Ahluwalia to dissuade him from resigning, but eventually supported the PM.
Baru claims the two ‘implicitly trusted each other’ but had policy differences. Gandhi would call on Singh to discuss family matters – including on one occasion Rahul's personal plans. When Gandhi turned sixty, Singh sent her a warm personal letter admiring her ‘courage and fortitude’.
The BJP promptly reacted to the contents of the book, with party leader M Venkaiah Naidu saying: "I have been saying from day one, PM presides, Madam decides."
Baru, during whose tenure in the first term of Manmohan Singh (2004-2009) enjoyed a positive media, was always uncomfortable with the Congress establishment who made no secret of the fact that they wanted him replaced in Manmohan Singh's second term.
Pankaj Pachauri, who is presently the communication adviser in the Prime Minister's Office, put out a statement saying: "It is an attempt to misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and to apparently exploit it for commercial gain.
(With inputs from Agencies)