Book review: The Accidental Prime Minister

This book review briefly explains why Dr.Manmohan Singh became the known as the Accidental Prime Minister.

I recently read the book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh‘ written by Mr.Sanjaya Baru, who was Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Manmohan Singh’s media advisor from May 2004 to Aug 2008. This blog post is only about my personal opinion after reading this book, and to make it clear, I have not seen the movie being released based on this book. It’s been more than 6 years since this book was published back in 2014, and this book had been on my ‘To Read’ list for a while. Finally, I got the time to read this recently and I completed it in a few days.

Due to my interest in history and world politics, I found this book very interesting. It covers the political happenings during UPA 1 from 2004 to 2008, when the author, Mr.Sanjaya Baru worked for Dr.Manmohan Singh ( and not for UPA government or certainly not for Sonia Gandhi as he clarifies in the book) as his media advisor. Well, the book highlights how Dr.Singh was chosen accidentally to be India’s PM during UPA 1 ( United Progressive Alliance) tenure, when Sonia Gandhi could not find anyone else deserving enough to serve as PM in her cabinet. Dr.Singh himself never thought of becoming PM, but destiny showered on him the blessings for his past hard work, his patriotism and dedication for serving the nation.

During UPA 1, even though Dr.Singh was the head of the government, everything was not however in total control of the PM. The portfolio allocations for ministers were done by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but finance and foreign ministry remained in the hands of Dr.Singh, and hence, the UPA 1 became a success due to the exceptional performance of Indian economy with a 9% GDP growth for continuous 5 years, and achieving India’s victory in foreign affairs by signing the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. Thanks to Dr.Singh, India could achieve this feat.

But during the UPA 2 tenure, the government was maligned due to its involvement in a number of corruption scandals especially the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scandal, Coal scam etc. But the author clarifies that Dr.Singh was not involved in any of this, because of the fact that Dr.Singh was not at all in control of the UPA 2 government. Not only were all the cabinet portfolios including finance and foreign ministries decided by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but also Dr.Singh was not consulted for any decisions taken during that tenure. As per Dr.Singh words as quoted by Mr.Baru in the book, “You see, you must understand one thing. 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,” This complacency became the main problem for Dr.Singh during UPA 2.

As the author explains in the book, Dr.Singh yielded his space during his second term against his own advice given to the author before. Dr.Singh always considered himself being a teacher, or economist first, and hardly saw himself as a politician. That’s why he was the accidental prime minister. His shy, introverted nature, his humble background, his studious and excellent academic accomplishments all made him an ideal reformer or expert in economics. And this was proved right in 1991 when the world saw how this gentleman along with the then PM Narsimha Rao bravely ushered in new reforms to liberalize the economy and pull India out of bankruptcy!

But when it came to politics, it was quite a challenge. His naiveness towards playing politics within the party, his lack of oratorical skills and his lack of intention to command power over his ministers all turned out to be detrimental to the position of Prime Minister. But his qualities turned out to be useful for the Congress high command who came to dominate and consolidate power behind the curtains, especially during UPA 2 tenure. Similar to the author, I too feel that Dr.Singh should have taken a strong stand against any ministers who did not respect him, or who rather just followed the orders of Congress high command over him. He should have contested Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and should have avoided running for the Rajya Sabha seat similar to the one he did back in 2004. Dr.Singh should have taken the credit for UPA’s victory in 2009 as he truly deserved it because after all, it was due to his economic and foreign affairs policies that had led to rise in India’s stature on the world platform.

Unfortunately, as the author has illustrated in the book, the opposition and the common public misunderstood his silence, or his shyness as submission to the Congress high command. His cardinal mistake of accepting Congress party high command as the leader of the country against his own position of PM, led to a series of events including corruption scandals, India Against Corruption rallies, and finally, set the stage for Narendra Modi, who was seen to be strong, decisive, articulate orator, all of these qualities being exact opposite of Dr.Singh’s personality.

I quite agree with the author’s views that Dr.Singh should have avoided becoming PM during UPA 2. It would have been terribly strenuous for the Congress high command to find someone like Dr.Singh, who is equally competent and compliant. As legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar rightly quoted “You must retire when people ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not”. I think Dr.Singh should have followed Gavaskar’s advice in 2009. But looking at the past 6 years of Modi government, it can be said that destiny wanted to lay the groundwork for the emergence of a new leader on stage, in the form of Narendra Modi, and hence, the chaos, and corruption became the face of UPA 2 government which resulted in the collapse of Congress dynasty in 2014.

But the book does shed light on the fact that it was not entirely the mistake of Dr.Singh. He did an excellent job in UPA 1 when he was given the freedom to work. But in UPA 2 he simply did not have any freedom nor support of his own party. The Congress mistook the victory after UPA 1 as eternal, and foolishly assumed to continue the ‘business as usual’ policy. They even handed over the credit of Dr.Singh to Rahul Gandhi in 2009. But as we know, karma hits back, and this abrasive and denigrating behavior of Congress party ( especially Sonia & Rahul Gandhi) towards Dr.Singh led to their reversal of their fortune in 2014, and it even plummeted further in 2019 elections. After all, Nature is never unfair!

After seeing all this, in spite of serving 10 years diligently, Dr.Singh had to express his legacy as “history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media, or for that matter, the Opposition parties in Parliament.” This is indeed true. India will always be indebted to Dr.Singh for making India liberal and globalized because of his 1991 economic reform, and later during UPA 1 tenure in making India a strong nation by signing the historic nuclear deal with USA. Dr.Singh will always be known as one of the finest prime minister India had after PM Nehru, who like Pandit Nehru was educated in England, close to Lutyens media, liberal in nature, and being respected globally. However, the only difference between both of them is that the former was the PM by destiny, while latter was by an accident!

Author: Abhi

Hello, this is Abhishek. I am an Electrical Engineer by education, and worked for an Energy Management company in Atlanta, USA. After staying for 5 years in United States, I have moved back to my country, India. Besides work, I am a bibliophile and enjoys reading about history, current affairs, and biographies. I practice ‘Sudarshan Kriya Yoga‘ meditation and volunteer for a NGO, Art of Living. I am a vegetarian, and also a fitness enthusiast. I intend to work for spreading awareness about Cancer. Finally, I enjoy writing and I hope to integrate this interest into my career with more experience. Please like, share and subscribe to my blog. Thank you for visiting!

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