Features Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 05:30
By Nidhi Mahesh Readers who would have pre-ordered the biographical account of life and (some) times of Dr. Manmohan Singh, by his daughter Daman Singh must have been a tad bit disappointed. “Strictly Personal” is a very public attempt of a daughter to speak of a father, who chose silence to be his defense in the face of every assault on the chair he held for a long decade. Ms. Singh tries hard to convey that her father was not a reluctant Prime Minister nor was he an unseasoned politician. But her account too is silent on issues that made her father one of the most ridiculed executives of independent India. Agreed, the book never claimed to ‘reveal all’ about the former PM, but it also fails to build a clear portrait of a man who drafted the economic charter of the country and made history in his lifetime (good or bad, is a matter of judgement, that I would refrain from, at the moment). The book has a vast canvas and charts through some of the most critical phases of Indian history – starting from partition down to the economic liberalization and beyond. The claim that “this book reveals a never-before-seen side of Manmohan Singh”, seems a bit stretched; for, he is known to be an academic, an economist and intellectual of the highest order. These are not the “unknown” chapters of his life. But then to be fair, the book never claimed to reveal the PM either. The back cover clearly states “The book is not about Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister but about Manmohan Singh, the family man whose life and loved ones were caught up in the maelstrom of history.” However, the trouble is it was not only that Dr. Singh was caught in the maelstrom of history, but the whole country along with him when unprecedented corruption charges mired almost all major ministries, even the one under his direct control. His silence is now made more profound with this biographical account.  Of course, having read the back cover and being aware of the writing prowess of Daman Singh, which is modest by all accounts, one should not have pinned hopes on major revelations in the book. Agreed. But the tight lipped account of the sudden premiership that the author claimed “happened” to her father, and a complete black out of events leading up to it, leaves you with a feeling of being cheated. More so, when the book was strategically released just after the more saucy and sensational claims by Sanjay Baru who maintained his boss was the “The Accidental Prime Minister”! Even if one takes the book on its face value, to be an account of the life of Dr. Singh and his wife, Gursharan, there seems to be something amiss. The historical events mentioned in the book lack a certain perspective and mostly skim the surface. The narrative is abruptly scuttled with forced conversations between the author and her subjects, but the first person accounts captured in quotes do not add any lustre nor flow. If it is an attempt of a daughter to know her parents and to make them known to people as well, the effort is laudable in spirit but lacks in substance.  Controversies during his premiership aside, Dr. Singh is the legitimate author of the economic liberalization of the country. It would have been interesting to find out about the man behind the well versed economist and get a peek into his personality. The 400 plus pages of the book do not reveal the man, or his behavioral nuances. It is more a collation of facts and a commentary on times went by without a perspective. As Dr. Singh famously said, “history will judge him more kindly”, the book does not help in bringing that history to present. No, it is not about passing judgment; it is not even about building a case. The book is one more in the list of celebrated biographies, that will not be missed, neither in present, nor in future – as it recounts a history where most chapters were wilfully omitted.
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