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Sanjaya Baru interview: ‘I have written only 50% of what I know’

Sanjaya Baru tells Ritu Sarin that his book ‘humanises’ Manmohan Singh

Written by Ritu Sarin
New Delhi | Updated: April 12, 2014 11:04:50 am
Sanjaya Baru Sanjaya Baru

The PMO has said you misused your position and wrote the book for commercial gain.
All I can say is that I am amused. It is a foolish statement because most of the book is positive (about the PM). And I do not want you to make it a them-versus-me issue. I left the PMO five years ago, and what I have written is memoirs of UPA 1.

While you have said you have not revealed contents of confidential documents or violated provisions of the Official Secrets Act, you have revealed a lot of confidential conversations that you had with the PM and ministers.
This is the way memoirs are written all over the world. In India too many people do not write memoirs, but Natwar Singh and  P C Alexander did. Civil servants and government functionaries do not write memoirs because they hope to get more government jobs or assignments. So, there is nothing unethical here.

But, for instance, you have indicated that Jairam Ramesh and Prithviraj Chavan may have been behind the leaking of stories to the media, and that you informed the PM about this. Also, you have revealed details of the conversations between then NSA M K Narayanan and the PM’s aides and yourself. Isn’t the PMO justified in saying you have revealed privileged information?
I haven’t revealed the names of people who gave me the information for this very reason. In fact, I approached several people before writing the book and if they said so, I did not reveal their names. In the book, I have revealed only 50 per cent of what I know. And whatever the PM then told me was in confidence, I have not written about. I have not broken any promises but I have full freedom to say or write about what others have said to me during my tenure in the PMO.

Did the PM know about the book?
No, I did not tell him about it. But last week I sent him a copy and haven’t got any feedback.

Your book is very critical of the PM during UPA 2. Why did he fail in his second term?
He stopped being the PM of the nuclear deal. He stopped being visible. But this was not so in his first five years, and I felt it was my responsibility to tell people. The Congress should know what his role was. India should know. The BJP leaders have not read the book; if they had, they would realize 90 per cent of it is flattering to Dr Singh. I wrote the book because he is not getting credit for all that he has done. Initially, I myself was against writing it but when after 2012 he started coming under attack, I decided to go ahead. I felt he is not being defended enough.

But there are portions where you have described him as a man in distress, once almost in tears, often a lonely man and so on.
Yes, the book humanises him, it brings him out as a human being. The younger generation today thinks of him as some kind of robot, a statue. The ‘Singh is King’ image is gone. He has become an object of ridicule, not admiration. I am showing him as a human being, I want there to be empathy for him. My conclusion is that he was more balanced in UPA 1 and less balanced in UPA 2.

You have written that the Congress party succeeded in keeping you out of the PMO in UPA 2. Who do you suspect did this?
I don’t know. I wasn’t  there to find out.

Are you happy you took the decision not to join the government a second time, in the Planning Commission, as you have written?
In retrospect I am very happy I did not take what was on offer. The fact is that the PM himself has not been able to assert himself in UPA 2 because of a variety of reasons. One was the required projection of Rahul Gandhi. But on the whole, I think history will be kind to Manmohan Singh and what I have written is a projection of one side of him during his more impressive years.

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