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Memoir by Indian PM’s ex-aide irks amid elections

April 12, 2014

NEW DELHI (AP) — A new book by a former aide to India’s prime minister has caused a political stir during ongoing national elections by suggesting the outgoing leader was never fully in charge of his government.

Instead, “The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh,” by Sanjaya Baru, describes the country’s top technocrat as having to compete with the dynastic Congress Party’s leader, Sonia Gandhi, for influence within his own Cabinet.

Singh’s office slammed the book, saying it “smacks of fiction and colored views of a former adviser” gathered during the first five of Singh’s 10 years in office.

“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,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement Friday.

Baru was Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008, and says his book does not deal with Singh’s second term, which began in 2009.

The book’s release — amid an election marked by vitriolic attacks between candidates — was immediately seized on by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which has named Narendra Modi, the leader of Gujarat state, as its prime ministerial candidate.

“I have been saying from Day One that the PM presides and madam decides,” BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said Friday, when the day’s campaign drama centered on Modi and his failure over years to acknowledge his wife in election affidavits.

Last week, the 63-year-old Modi noted his marriage in registering for the general election - his first official acknowledgment of the arranged marriage to a retired school teacher from whom he has lived separately for almost four decades. Rahul Gandhi - the son of Sonia Gandhi and Singh’s presumed successor should Congress win the election - questioned how Modi could say he supports women while leaving his own wife in obscurity.

The two national parties are locked in a tense campaign battle for control of the next national government, with Congress facing a possible drubbing due to corruption scandals and recent years of economic slowdown. Voters are choosing representatives for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament, with results expected on May 16.

Baru’s memoir directly addresses the growing notion that the economist Singh had been unconcerned with corruption in his government.

“Dr. Singh’s general attitude toward corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others,” the book says. “In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers.”

In an interview published Saturday in the Indian Express, Baru said he was “amused” by the government’s objections to his book, insisting “most of the book is positive” and that he wrote it reluctantly after Singh “started coming under attack” in 2012. “I felt he is not being defended enough,” he said.

Singh, long seen as squeaky clean, had been tapped to fill the top government slot in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, who became Congress leader in 1998 after her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated in 1991.

Singh, an 81-year-old Oxford-educated economist, was widely credited for ushering in economic reforms and unleashing India’s explosive growth. But in recent years, he has been seen more as a droll substitute for leadership, sitting as regent to keep the prime ministerial seat warm for Rahul Gandhi, while the country’s economy slumped toward stagnation and corruption spun out of control.


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