The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru: A review

Twenty-fourth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

I loved this book!

Of course, a lot of people might want to disagree; calling this book biased, controversial, flagrant, irrelevant, pompous, simplistic or even plain stupid. Yet, they will have to agree that this is a charming tale about a reticent man. A man who accidentally became the leader of the world’s largest democracy and somehow proved himself worthy of that accident. And we would never be able to know about his secret life within the confines of 7 Race Course Road, had it not been for this book.

Agreed, this book is biased, but surely, Manmohan deserves some unabashed praise for his mammoth contribution to the Economic policy of India. This shy and reserved person, may have expressed the hope that history will see him in better light than his contemporaries, but he would not have done anything to ensure that. This book tries to achieve that.

The Accidental Prime Minister Book CoverThis book might be controversial as unapologetically divides the politicians into:
The bad people (Arjun Singh, Prakash Karat) who were out to get Manmohan and would stop at nothing to destroy him; The semi-bad people who either had a huge ego that Manmohan’s meteoric rise hurt badly (Pranab Mukerjee) or were simply too practical to pay any heed to his vision for the country (Ahmed Patel); The semi-good people (Sitaram Yechury, Natwar Singh, George W. Bush and Chidambaram) who came to help Manmohan in a lot of unexpected ways and would’ve loved to be by his side, yet they were bound by ideological and/or political constraints; The good people consisting of a group of surprisingly staunch supporters of Manmohan Singh (Sonia Gandhi, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) without whose support he wouldn’t have been able to achieve whatever little he did achieve in his ten years as Prime Minister.

Sanjaya Baru doesn’t mince words while talking about these powerful people (check out the excerpts) and paints them in different hues; sometimes flagrantly different hues (yet, in a delightfully comic way). And he risked becoming irrelevant by being a tad too late in coming out with this book. Additionally, he also doesn’t shy away from blowing his own trumpet on more than a few occasions. Yet, somehow, he seems to have deserved it, having persevered so hard and so well (it seems) by the side of a silent soldier. He deserves to tell his own story too.

Lastly, his analysis is an overly simplistic view of politics and doesn’t really tell you the whole story. But for a one-sided account, it is enthralling, because people love good vs evil parables [1]. This book doesn’t aim to be a historical document or a reference book with authoritative material on what happened during the 10 years of UPA rule under Manmohan Singh. It is a memoir of a man who loved and respected Manmohan Singh and wanted to shed some good light on his time as Prime Minister, especially in a time when everybody was baying for his blood and discrediting him as a voiceless puppet in the hands of the Congress High Command.

In this regard, Sanjaya Baru has done a fantastic job of writing a story that despite not having a great flow, manages to captivate the reader and installs in them, a deep respect for an honestly good individual, who persevered against severe odds to ensure that he shouldn’t fail in the performance of his duty to his nation.

I recommend this fast paced biography that follows the making and unmaking of Manmohan Singh to everyone. Despite being a non-fictional book, it doesn’t have any overwhelming ‘further reading’ list towards the end, nor the daunting footnotes. It reads just like a novel and has some wonderful and sometimes funny anecdotes. I look forward to a similar account from someone who worked with Sonia Gandhi.

[1] Why we love a simplistic ‘good vs bad’ narrative and a short history of the Central African Republic

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