Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was “overprotective” of his ministers, his daughter Daman Singh said.
In an interview to The Hindu , the author of Strictly Personal , a new biography of the former Prime Minister and his wife Gursharan Kaur, rejected the charge that Dr. Singh had not “stood up” for his Cabinet colleagues.
The allegation that he bowed to the wishes of party president Sonia Gandhi has been made in two recent books written by former media adviser to the PM, Sanjaya Baru, and former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh. “I haven’t read Sanjaya Baru’s or Natwar Singh’s book,” said Ms. Singh, “But the funny thing is some people say the exact opposite — that my father was over protective of his ministers.” During the years 2009-2012, Dr. Singh also faced severe criticism for allowing several ministers accused of corruption to continue in their posts.
Ms. Singh’s book does not deal with the period of Dr. Singh’s tenure as the Prime Minister; instead it is a description of all the years before 2004.
Unlike the other recently published books about Dr. Singh, his daughter hardly speaks of his relationship with Ms. Gandhi, mentioning her briefly, when she takes over the party’s reigns in 1998. In her interview to The Hindu , Ms. Singh also revealed that the Singh family hardly knew or met the Gandhi family. “I met Mrs. Gandhi once (when my father returned from heart surgery in 2009),” she recounts, “I think I met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi for a minute or two at the SPG raising day.”
And despite the strain in ties between Ms. Gandhi and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, Ms. Singh also says Dr. Singh visited his former boss “often”. “I think he even sought Rao sahib’s advice after, or maybe just before he was sworn in.”
In Cambridge, Manmohan often survived on chocolates
Ms. Singh portrays her parents on the basis of interviews with them conducted over the past five years, and Dr. Singh’s letters to friends during his student years.
In a rare glimpse into a younger Dr. Singh, she portrays his inability to afford more than a “sixpence bar of Cadbury’s chocolate” to eat all day when studying at the UK’s Cambridge University, and asking a friend to lend him £25 for two years (the friend sent only £3, which was all that he could afford). She also speaks of a “hint of romance” during those years, before he was married.
“I was absolutely delighted to know my father had thought about a girl, any girl, when he was a student. Was there a romance? I hope so,” she added.
While Ms. Singh contends that the book is more a discovery of her parents than a defence of Dr. Singh, the book does focus on explaining his political achievements and failures, from economic reforms in 1991 to his attempt at standing from the South Delhi seat in 1999, which she said her mother opposed. Ms. Singh also gave an unprecedented account of the difficulties of being a public figure’s daughter.
In an excerpt from the book available with The Hindu , Ms. Singh recounts the negative reactions to Dr. Singh’s economic reforms, while she worked at a non-profit organisation. “1991 was the most miserable year of my professional life. When my father took off on the road to reforms, my colleagues were outraged. They rudely cut me off in staff meetings and refused to have anything to do with me,” she writes.
At another point, Ms. Singh is brutally honest, as she admits to suffering a “mental breakdown” when Dr. Singh lost the Lok Sabha election in 1999. “It appeared that my breakdown was triggered by events but was not caused by them,” she says. “Unable to make this distinction, my father blamed himself for all that had happened.”