Destiny manifests itself through events,some predictable,others unforeseen. But one does not stumble upon a Crown by accident.Its in the inherent nature of things that cometh the hour,the best man rises to the occasion.He doesn’t have to be higher,faster,stronger but must be most suited to the requirements of the job at that particular point in time.It was Manmohan Singh’s self effacing humility that he referred to himself as ‘accidental PM’.His close confidante and media advisor,Sanjaya Baru,named his book ‘The Accidental PM’ so as to avoid manufacturing a trickier or more saucy title.In the hands of miscreants and MMS-baiters,it has become a pejorative projectile to be hurled at the great man,and more often than not ,to hurt the Family.Against such fusillade,MMS has often emerged stronger and looking better than his detractors.
IT was not by accident that he was chosen to be the Finance Minister of India in 1991,after IG Patel had expressed his unwillingness to don the mantle .MMS had been associated with the Finance Ministry in some capacity or the other since 1972.He was nominated as the Governor,RBI by Pranab Mukherjee in 1982 and worked there till 1985.Neither was it by accident ,but on account of his experience and capability that he was appointed the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission between 1985-87. MMS was also the Advisor on Economic Affairs to VP and Chandrashekhar governments. Between 1998-2004 ,MMS was the closest advisor to Sonia Gandhi on finance and Foreign policy matters. It was these factors,as well as his intellect,humility,clean image,experience and absence of any ambition of establishing a dynasty or build an Empire of his own ,which made MMS an obvious choice to head the Congress government. What was so accidental about his ascent ?
It was also not by accident that Sonia developed cold feet,but it was political expediency which led to the drama of renunciation.Antony was not a choice being a Christian as well,Pranab was not trusted,Shinde was not considered that capable ,Arjun was a shady customer and Natwar was a loudmouth.It was fairly obvious that MMS was the natural choice in 2004 to lead UPA-1.
Despite after crossing 86,even in 2019,MMS remains one of the two (the other being Mallikarjun Kharge) likely alternatives ,in case Rahul also develops cold feet or is ruled out owing to the issue of British citizenship (matter pending with the Ethics Committee).
Coming from a small village in Pakistan,MMS completed his graduation and PG at the Punjab University, and went to Oxbridge for his higher studies.He came back to India to teach at his alma mater Punjab University,when in 1960s his neighbour and friend,the writer Mulk Raj Anand,took him to meet Pandit Nehru.The ex-PM ,as was his wont,invited MMS to join the government ,but MMS had to pass the offer as he was serving out his contract with the college which had funded his education abroad.He later worked for UNCTAD between 1969-72 and then joined GoI in 1972.Here is someone who has worked at every level in the Finance Ministry ,and then finally reached the apex position of the PM ,yet we dismiss him as accidental,but celebrate heaven borns,the accidental unions of the right kind of sperm with the appropriate ovums as the rightful leaders.
The Accidental PM ,if it serves any purpose,besides being used as an instrument of abuse by the likes of Anupam Kher and some obscure ,unheard of director,Vijay Ratnakar Gutte,sheds light on the background story behind the passage of Nuclear deal between India and US.It exposes the likes of Prakash Karat and Advani,and brings forth the real strength of character of MMS,Amar Singh and Bush Jr.Fact is MMS was not as weak and helpless during UPA-1,as he later became.Against the opposition of Left ,BJP and many even in the Congress ,he singlehandedly pushed forward the Nuclear deal and succeded in his endeavour.This deal would define his legacy,and it was his alone to savour.
Prakash KARAT was from Kerala ,and wanted to overcome the Bengal lobby in the CPI(M)-Jyoti Basu,Buddhadev,Yechury and Surjeet.To bolster his anti-US credentials,enhance his nuisance value,put the Bengal faction in its place,and destroy MMS and Surjeet-Yechury working relationship,Karat tried to sabotage the Deal at every step.Left withdrew support from UPA-1 in mid-2008 ,but it is to Sonia’s credit that she kept her faith in Dr.Singh,a faith he repaid in full measure.
It is during these troubled times that AMAR Singh,hospitalised in the US at that time,came to MMS’s rescue and offered SP’s support .With their support,UPA proved majority in the Lok Sabha and with the Left monkey off their back ,were free to move ahead with the Deal.Amar Singh considers himself as the architect of the Nuclear Deal,and with some justification .MULAYAM Singh also deserves accolades for playing along ,despite his perceived closeness to the Left.
SOMNATH Chatterjee was the Lok Sabha Speaker between 2004-09.He was directed by Karat to resign,but Somnath Da refused .He was thrown out of the CPI(M),but the grand old man refused to budge since he considered himself to be above petty partisanship as the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
It was the BJP government under Atal ji which had began the N-dialogue with the US.The Next Steps on Strategic Partnership gradually culminated into the final Deal.But Lal Krishna ADVANI ,ever a politician displayed remarkable pettiness and showed just why he could never become the Leader of the Nation .BJP accused MMS of selling out ,opposed the deal and in tandem with the Left,tried to bring the government down.Of course,it failed,and lost face.When LKA was projected as the PM candidate in 2009,he came across as a petty choice in a direct battle of perception against the incumbent ,MMS.
By this time,BRIJESH Mishra,Atal’s NSA and Principal Secretary,had been won over to the pro-deal side .Despite his earlier objections,he finally voiced support in favaour of the Nuclear Deal,and showed just why he was so trusted by Vajpayee.
Sanjaya Baru’s book is not a scathing indictment of Manmohan Singh.Infact,he paints a very statesmanlike picture of the ex-PM,atleast during UPA-1. Sanjaya left his job as media advisor in the middle of 2008,and found his entry routes blocked by the party when he tried to return an year later. This partly explains his criticsm of the Family.
MMS might have been the PM in UPA-1 but power definitely emanated from the Party .There was no way there could have been two power centres .But he had a lot of room to run the show as well till 2009 .Sonia unequivocally supported him in his turf battles verus Natwar,Pranab,Antony,Arjun Singh and Left.MMS also shared warm personal chemistry with Sharad Pawar,Karunanidhi,Surjeet and Lalu Yadav which gave him a lot of confidence.
General Elections 2009 were fought under his stewardship,and he became the first incumbent PM after 1962 to return to office following a full five year term.MMS had comprehensively beaten Advani,and had overcome the opposition of the Left .It was Singh’s clean image,statemanly aura,strong economic growth as well as Nuclear deal (mattered in urban centres) that propelled Congress towards victory.For all the propaganda about NREGA and farm loan waivers,Congress didn’t win big in rural areas,but swept the urban centres.
But what proved to be his undoing was not fighting (or not been allowed) the Lok Sabha polls in 2009.This undermined his moral authority and pretensions of claiming the victory as his own .Post elections,he was systematically defanged and neutered in choice of ministers as well as certain policy initiatives.In victory and with increased strength (206 seats as against 145 earlier),the Family (or the Establishment) hit back to put him in his place.
It was not by accident that he was selected to lead the country,but it was by design that he was kept and discredited in his second term.Escape was perhaps not an option for him as he must have felt some loyalty towards Congress, the Family and the country .Pranab had become President in June 2012,Natwar had long been shown the door,Rahul was not ready to take charge,Antony had been discredited and Arjun Singh had died in 2011. Anna movement and various corruption scandals rocked UPA-2 and MMS’ Teflon image was hurt as well.He came to be seen as someone who,despite his personal integrity,turned a blind eye towards corrupt ministers ,either out of weakness,political expediency or sheer lust for power.
For all his flaws ,though,I believe,history would judge MMS in a kinder manner than the present does.Already the tag of being ‘maun’ has vanished.He did speak on occasions,and held press conferences whenever he returned from foreign trips .It was his innate humility that he called himself an ‘accidental PM’ in his first term.In the second tern,he came to office by the right of the victorious incumbent.What remains a fact was that he was ‘chosen’ by Sonia Gandhi and by Destiny to lead this country for ten long years.