By Sanjana Pandit
1. Mani Dixit – M.K. Narayanan & Mani would regularly have heated arguments in front of the PM who just witnessed it patiently. They continuously accused each other of overstepping while the PM sat with a concerned look.
2. The Jairam Ramesh appointment – When Baru was asked by the PM about his opinion whether Jairam Ramesh should be inducted in the cabinet, he said that Ramesh needed to “be more demonstrative of his loyalty”. In a couple of months Jairam Ramesh was sworn in as minister of state for the commerce ministry. It was only because he was close to Suman Dubey- a friend of Sonia Gandhi.
3. T.K.A Nair, the third choice –He was chosen as principal secretary as NN Vohra & another individual selected by Sonia Gandhi refused the post. He was overshadowed by the ‘dominant’ Mani Dixit. Baru compares him to Brajesh Mishra, the principal secretary in Vajpayee’s office who was a risk taker & fortified the power of a PM in a coalition government. Mishra was the one who took the joint decision with Vajpayee to make India a nuclear weapons state.
4. Pulok Chatterjee, the middle man –He worked as deputy secretary for Rajiv Gandhi & after the assassination worked with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. He was very close to the Gandhi family & soon joined the personal staff of Sonia Gandhi when she was the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. He kept Sonia Gandhi informed about policy decisions & had to “seek her instructions on important files to be cleared by the PM”.
5. Sonia Gandhi – Sonia Gandhi gave the survival of the government precedence over the nuclear deal with the US. When the Left decided to withdraw its support from the Alliance over the India-United States Civil Nuclear Agreement (a.k.a 123 agreement), the PM refused to compromise & strongly felt they must go ahead with the deal. He almost resigned due to this, but stopped due to Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s insistence.
6. P.Chidambaram– The PM often sat with P. Chidambaram to finalise the budget speech. Manmohan Singh initially wanted to retain the Finance Ministry but was dissuaded by Sonia Gandhi as P.Chidambaram was a clear choice of the party. The PM shared an excellent working relationship with Chidambaram.
On hearing that the Left claimed to be the UPA’s watchdog, Chidambaram in Yechury’s presence said, “Either way, he agrees that he is a dog”.
7. M.K. Narayanan, the J.Edgar Hoover of the Manmohan government – He used a famous line on everybody, “I have a file on you”. The heads of RAW & IB were asked to report to the NSA instead of the PM, as Singh refused to take daily intelligence updates. He was the first prime minister not to do so. He carried a lot of operations, kept tabs on editors, journalists & the PM himself handled matters with him prudently.