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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Flip Side: Letter testamentary

‘Rockstar’ was a phrase heard when you were in New York, surrounded by all those Patels and Shahs from New Jersey.

Written by Dilip Bobb |
Updated: November 9, 2014 12:05:02 am


Dear Shri Narendraji,

Thank you for your congratulatory message on the honour bestowed on me in Japan. My good friend Shinzo Abe spoke very highly of you. Of course, there is a difference in the relationships he has with us two. He gave you a hug, he gave me a medal —the Grand Cordon of the Order of Paulownia Flowers. Incidentally, Paulownia is a tree which is straight and extremely lightweight. The photographs of us in Japan show me with the medal and, in your case, there’s the one of you pulling a child’s ears. That is why I have addressed this letter as ‘10 PM to 5 PM’. I was prime minister for 10 years, you have just completed 5 months. So this is a letter testamentary. A will and testament to my successor, bequeathing some words of friendly advice as you embark on your first Cabinet reshuffle. Cabinet reshuffles always reminded me of college, where you are forced to sit in a room with people you can’t stand. Incidentally, my college was Cambridge and, as you know, I too came from humble beginnings. Be that as it may, Cabinet reshuffles are a lesson in humiliation. Political allies no longer demand Cabinet berths, they tell you which Cabinet post they want and it must be an upper berth. It’s a wide spectrum. You may have the same problem with the Shiv Sena. There are always crouching tigers and hidden dragons, or dragon ladies.


Remember, there is a honeymoon period. Mine lasted five years. Then there is the cooling-off period. In my case, that also lasted five years. You are experiencing the honeymoon, the public loves you, businessmen praise you to the sky, the media sings hosannas and creates these fancy headlines — Newsweek called me ‘The leader other leaders love’. I’m sure they are saying similar things about you.

‘Rockstar’ was a phrase heard when you were in New York, surrounded by all those Patels and Shahs from New Jersey. It must have been like preaching to the faithful. In my last five years, I was presiding over the unfaithful. Every minister thought he or she was a raja. Thanks to them, I was hauled over the coal by the media, not to mention media advisors. A few words of advice: I notice you have avoided hiring a media advisor. I only realised much too late that when media advisors join the PMO, they are immediately offered a book deal.

Publishers are strange. They offer the media advisor to the PM a book deal, but no one has offered me one. I would have to take permission first, of course. Loyalty is key to survival in politics, but it is in such short supply. Even those whose loyalty you take for granted start taking you for granted, especially when you are out of the country on a state visit. I was reminded of my own position when you declared that you are a ‘Prime Servant’, and not Prime Minister. We have some things in common. You avoid the media and I, by keeping silent, did too. You have started the ‘Clean India’ campaign, and I was also all for cleanliness in public life. It’s a dirty job trying to get people to clean, or to get clean people. It’s like your campaign for toilets. My advice is start from the top and not the bottoms. The last piece of advice: enjoy the honeymoon while you can. Adopt a village. It doesn’t take long to become a political orphan.

Swachh Bharat!

Yours in anticipation,
Manmohan Singh

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