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'Who'll be interested in reading about Manmohan Singh after polls?'

May 08, 2014 12:28 IST

‘While some allege the book (The Accidental Prime Minister) has been sponsored by the opposition, others believe the prime minister himself commissioned the book. Dr Singh has got absolutely nothing to do with the book.’

'I wouldn’t have been fair to either Dr Singh or my readers had I not written what I have...'

Sanjaya Baru, Manmohan Singh’s former media advisor and author of The Accidental Prime Minister, defends his controversial memoir at the book's release in Mumbai on Wednesday evening. 

It is arguably the most controversial book this election season.

It is well on its way to become a bestseller.

It has earned its author more fame than all his previous assignments.

The Accidental Prime Minister, a tell-all memoir on Manmohan Singh’s government, has generated diverse reactions since its release last month.

While the Prime Minister’s Office expectedly denounced it as 'fiction', there are others who have appreciated the book for its honest approach.

On Wednesday, at the book’s launch in Mumbai, author Sanjaya Baru sat explaining (rather, defending) his work -- and the reactions it has generated -- in front of a gathering of intellectuals and the fourth estate.

“Why should I defend my book?” he asked, adding, “An author’s job is to write a book, not defend it. It is up to the reader to like it or not like it.”

Baru, Dr Singh’s media advisor and chief spokesperson from 2004 to 2008, explained that many have reacted to the book without having read it.

“In a bigger sense it is the introduction and the epilogue that you can call critical. Both were written later, what you can call an afterthought in a practical sense,” he said. “But they are outside of the main thrust of the book. It’s fascinating that there’s so much focus on them than the actual book.”

“I wouldn’t have been fair to either Dr Singh or my readers had I not written what I have in the introduction. It was written more as a gesture of fairness to the subject of the book,” reasoned Baru.

“On the other hand the epilogue, a gesture of fairness to the reader, tells you my view of what happened after 2009, after I had left the Prime Minister’s Office, that is.”

The first-time author, currently serving as director for Geo-Economics and Strategy at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, admitted he was taken aback by the criticism that came in from various quarters

“I was surprised with the extreme reactions, both the positive and the negative ones. But what amazed me even more was that the book became so popular,” he said. “I had never expected it to be a popular book.”

“I would have been quite happy if a couple of thousands (people) would have read it. I also didn’t expect the kind of criticism I got, mostly personal attacks. After all it’s a democracy and everyone has the right to express his opinion.”

When quizzed about the timing of the book’s release -- coinciding with the general elections -- Baru offered a pragmatic response. “There was the view, of both the publishers and my friends, as to who’ll be interested in reading about Manmohan Singh after the election, let alone buy the book,” he explained, before narrating an anecdote.

“On the morning the book was out, somebody from my publisher’s (Penguin) office contacted Arnab Goswami (of Times Now) regarding the possibility of an interview,” recalled Baru.

“His reaction was similar to how most potential readers would have reacted. He said, “Who’s interested in Manmohan Singh? The news is about Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.”

“It is only when the PMO criticised the book that I got a call from him to make an appearance on the channel.”

“Ever since the book’s release there have been many conspiracy theories doing the rounds. While some allege the book has been sponsored by the opposition (Bharatiya Janata Party), others believe the prime minister himself commissioned the book, as most of it seems like a eulogy.”

“Dr Singh has got absolutely nothing to do with the book. He didn’t even know I was writing the book till I actually finished it,” clarified Baru.

“Therefore, it is completely my responsibility. But conspiracy theories keep circulating and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The author, while claiming it was he who predicted, in one of his columns back in 1999, that Dr Singh was Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi's sole option -- for the country’s top job -- should the Congress come to power, reiterated that his book is an empathetic portrayal of the outgoing prime minister and far more balanced than it is being perceived.

“In my view the book is objective, saying both the good and the bad things,” he explained.

“It talks about one of the greatest experiment in Indian politics that worked for the first five years -- never before in history had our country posted an average growth rate (8.5 per cent) for five straight years, and failed in the next five,” he continued, adding, “It’s more value-laden.”

Baru also refuted all suggestions about him taking up another offer in the PMO in case the Modi government wants him. “In my entire career I've never returned to a job after I have left it,” he concluded.

Image: Sajaya Baru was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's media advisor and chief spokesperson from 2004 to 2008.

Get your copy of 'The Accidental Prime Minister' here

Bikash Mohapatra in Mumbai