Curious Case of Book on Dual Power Centre Lost Amid Those on PM
In the first fortnight of April, in the thick of the 2014 electoral battle, two new books hit the scene—Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister and P C Parakh’s From Crusader to Conspirator. Both authors held senior positions in the Government of India during UPA I. Baru, in the sensitive post of media adviser to the Prime Minister, was working directly in Prime
Minister’s Office (PMO), with daily continuous access to the Prime Minister as well as the other senior functionaries in the PMO. Both books received thunderous media reception as they were unveiled.
It has been well known for years that the Prime Minister really enjoyed little autonomy, and was weak; he was an ineffectual nominal leader, while the real power vested elsewhere. In many recent books this point has been highlighted strongly, indeed in terms much stronger than brought out by Baru and Parakh. The significance of these two books, however, is that both the authors were senior officials working directly with the Prime Minister; their narration of incidents and details added verisimilitude to the common belief about the ineffectiveness of the Prime Minister. Essentially, the two books practically added ‘proof’ to popularly accepted versions of governance in India in recent years.
A question has been raised about the timing of the books; whether it was ethical and in good taste for the two authors to time the release during the election period. From the perspective of the authors and publishers, the proof of ‘the pudding is in the eating’—the first prints of the books were sold out instantly; the books had a thunderous reception in the market. Clearly, the timing, from a commercial point of view, was perfect. Naturally, the prevailing principle is to ‘shoot the messenger’; both authors have instantly been dubbed as ‘agents’ of the BJP—a claim which is not easy to swallow.
There is one element in Baru’s book which requires careful examination, in view of its constitutional implications. Every minister, including the Prime Minister, takes oath at the time of assumption of office that ‘he will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought to (his) consideration as minister, except as may be required for due discharge of (his) duties as such minister’. Indeed, this is the oath of secrecy to ensure that ‘outsiders’ shall not bring influence to bear on official decisions. Baru has revealed that the principal secretary to the Prime Minister used to visit the office of the party president almost every day—the unspoken implication is that official matters were discussed or brought into consultation with the party president/ her office on a continuous basis. This, if true, is an extremely serious matter. The party president is not a functionary of the government, her senior staff do not take the oath of secrecy under the Constitution. The consultation process with ‘outsiders’ is expressly forbidden. Surely, the principal secretary did not go to the party office on a daily basis to discuss the weather. This is an issue of major potential significance for our parliamentary system of governance. Possibly we have not heard the end of this matter.
Parakh’s book amply demonstrates, chapter and verse, the sharp deterioration in the standards of governance at the Centre. The book also throws light on many aspects of the ‘coal scam’, which will be of interest to the general public. Parakh had proposed the auction method in 2004, which was approved by the Prime Minister of the day; however, the interests of the politicians involved managed to subvert this sound decision, filibuster its implementation for a decade, while in the meantime ensure that the ‘treasury is looted’. The Prime Minister comes out as a mute, ineffective, helpless spectator, a ‘prisoner’ of circumstances. He was a wimp in implementing a decision taken by himself, in the face of the corrupt forces surrounding him. The real cause for the massive coalgate scam stems from the Prime Minister’s inability to enforce his own correct decision—is he constructively liable? The book also clearly debunks the theory that the CAG’s calculation of loss was a spectacular over-assessment; on the contrary, it was very much on the conservative side.
It is also curious to note that the day Parakh’s book was released, two other significant events took place. In a CBI anniversary function, Gopal Gandhi, a former governor and a grandson of the Mahatma, had talked of one large private company functioning like ‘a parallel government’. The same day, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s book Ambanis Gas Wars and Crony Capitalism was released. Curiously, in contrast to the thunderous reception given to the Baru and Parakh publications, no major newspaper or television channel reported the release of Guha Thakurta’s book which carried a message relevant to the life of every citizen. Clearly, our print and visual media are not as independent as they claim—perhaps well to the contrary. It also shows how right Gopal Gandhi was. Indeed are we close to being a ‘banana republic’? These are disturbing questions which need serious soul-searching.