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In UPA, 'the leader to please was always Sonia'
Saturday April 12, 2014 3:28 PM, IANS

Jairam Ramesh, union minister of rural development, owed his loyalty - like did many other ministers - only to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and not to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in UPA-I. He even leaked a letter written by Sonia Gandhi to the prime minister to the media in order to embarrass the prime minister, according to the book by Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to Manmohan Singh.

Baru writes that "For Congress MPs, the leader to please was always Sonia. They did not see loyalty to the PM as a political necessity, nor did Dr Singh seek loyalty in the way in which Sonia and her aides sought it. That Jairam's loyalty was only with Sonia became clearer within weeks of his becoming a minister when he chose to embarrass the PM by leaking a letter that Sonia had written to Dr Singh cautioning him against pursuing an initiative he valued a lot—the free trade agreement (FTA) with member countries of the ASEAN."

"Dr Singh viewed the India-ASEAN FTA as an important geo political initiative and aimed at India's economic integration into the rapidly growing Asian economies", writes Baru in his book "The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh" (Penguin) that hit the stands Friday.

Sonia's letter, written at the behest of the Congress party in Kerala, was to convey the concerns of plantation workers that the FTA with ASEAN would hurt their interests

Baru writes that it was "not normal practice for Sonia to write such formal letters to the PM. She almost always conveyed serious concerns orally and directly or through intermediaries like Ahmed Patel and Pulok Chatterjee. However, since she had written, Dr Singh too responded in writing, defending the FTA. He wrote:

"A few weeks later Sonia's con? dential letter to the PM found its way into the media, with the Business Standard carrying a front-page story. A furious Dr Singh asked me to ?nd out who had leaked it."

Baru says he asked the paper's editor T.N. Ninan, who declined to reveal the "identity of a privileged news source. However, a journalist in the know con? rmed Jairam Ramesh's role. I reported this back to Dr Singh who picked up the phone and reprimanded Jairam, even as the latter denied any role in the leak."

Baru also said Manmohan Singh "never questioned Sonia's right, as party president, to in?uence portfolio allocations though, over time, he became quite forthcoming in giving his opinions, and she did accept his advice. "

"While I knew it was not realistic to argue that Dr Singh should have full control over ministerial appointments, I felt he needed to assert himself at least in the allocation of portfolios to junior ministers and would press him when I got the chance."

In 2005, Baru says when the prime minister asked him whether he thought Jairam Ramesh should be inducted into government, "I replied that Jairam ought to be more demonstrative of his loyalty to the PM if he wanted a berth in the ministry".

Baru says a few days later he was asked by Montek Singh Ahluwalia why he was opposing Jairam's induction.

Baru says he told Montek that he had told the PM "that at least younger Congress MPs should feel they owed their ministerial berths to the PM rather than just to Sonia."

In the following month, "Jairam did get inducted as a minister of state in the commerce ministry. I was not surprised to learn that Jairam later called on Sonia's friend Suman Dubey and thanked him for the job," he says in the book.

The revelations in the book by an insider of Sonia being the actual power centre and of the prime minister being shorn of any real authority are bound to cause more harm to the Congress's fortunes, coming as it does during the general elections when the Congress party's electoral fortunes are seen as on the downswing.

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