Review of How Prime Ministers Decide : Analysis of Six Prime Minister’s style of working


One of the seasoned political journalists, Neerja Chowdhury, produced a document about the six prime ministers of India. This book will be a handy text for students of politics and policymakers to understand how our Prime ministers are running our country. What kinds of politics and policies are preferred by them? She also talked about the personhood of the six prime Ministers whom she has selected for her book.

From 15 August 1947 to the present time, we have had 14 Prime Ministers, Our first Prime Minister was Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and, currently, Narendra Modi is our Prime Minster. Each one has been adopting different ways of running the government, but the core is always democracy. Over the period, India was recognized as one of the most robust democratic countries, which shaped its reputation and credibility globally.

There are ups and downs in domestic affairs, which Neerja dealt with in her book. She has chosen to write about six Prime Ministers out of 14 individuals; in six chapters, each section dealing with one prime minister, but there is continuity along with the past confronting with present. This book, How Prime Ministers Decide,also reveals the contrasting ideologies and interest groups that existed all through the time, no matter which party was in the government.

The best part was that, through Neerja’s narration, there was a remarkable ability to collaborate and build alliances between political parties and with the international community for the larger interest of the Indian citizen. This book deals with the analysis of each Prime Minister’s style of working quite rigorously.

Indira Gandhi- Emergency and new politics

Neerja Chaudhary gave many detailed untold stories, which attracted my attention: the meticulous detail on emergency tenure and how this show was being run to grab power. Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi, executed most of the administrative and political decisions. Sanjay Gandhi created his own courtiers.

One of the interesting anecdotes mentioned in her book is how Sanjay Gandhi summoned I K Gujral, then information and broadcasting minister, because All India Radio ( AIR) was projecting Indira Gandhi as efficient . Sanjay Gandhi instructed Gujral to send all AIR news bulletin first to him for approval; I K Gujral declined to share report with Sanjay, in the consequence Gujral was sacked .They picked V C Shukla as new minister for I & B portfolio.

Neerja Chowdhury writes, about the same mighty Indira Gandhi talking to her close aids, after her humiliating defeat in 1977, “After all, what are my needs?’ she went on reflectively.‘ Mera kharcha hee kia hai (I don’t need much money to live) ? I can live simply’ she was talking to Anil Bali Kapil Mohan of Mohan Mekins beverages (makers of Old Monk Rum and Golden Eagle Beer). Both of them are close aids of her darbar (close courtier) to decide business.

The story of JP’s relationship with the Nehru family was interesting, this book reveals. Despite the political rivalry with Indira Gandhi, JP action were above politics, when he decided to hand a personal letter, which was written by Indira’s Kamla Nehru to the JP’s wife Prabhavati Devi, JP instructed his associate Kumar Prashant, to hand over those letter to Indu, JP used to call Indira Gandhi as Indu. This was a commitment toward privacy and ethics in practice.

This book also gives a detailed account of the Emergency and how various factions of the JP movement could not hold themselves united, rather started fight within to grab the power. Ultimately, it is became slippery to sustain the cohesive against the Indira Gandhi. She also played her role to make her position strong again in the politics of India.

The Indira’s relation with RSS, also exposed in this book., how they also supported emergency in the certain context. As mentioned in the book, Kamal Nath, went to pursue ‘back channel’ to talk with Bal Thackeray of Maharashtra. ‘Its’s good for the country’ he told to Kamal Nath. ‘Thackeray played a stellar role in convincing the RSS brass also to support the emergency’ as told by Kamal Nath to Neerja.

Rajiv Gandhi dealing with development and religious sentiment

Rajiv Gandhi was chosen as PM after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. The level of detail Neerja shared in her book is phenomenal. For example, the discussion between Rajiv and Sonia about the Shah Bano judgment and afterwards, “Rajiv, if you can’t convince me about this Muslim Women’s Bill, how are you going to convince the country?”, Sonia asked Rajiv. According to D.P. Tripathi, the late Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader who was then a member of Rajiv’s inner circle. “You must stand by the Supreme Court judgment,” she told him. “This Sonia said in my presence” the book quotes Tripathi as saying.

Interesting and detailed story to understand society and vote bank politics as handle the issues of Muslim women first then chose to engage with Mandir agenda. Rajiv’s work as PM, Neerja narrated a story like his association with Sam Pitroda for promoting the technology mission in India. One of the stories always run in the Indian media about the kind of relation, the Congress party have/had with the RSS.

Neerja’s book break the mysteries with evidence, she writes in her book “Rajiv met Bhaurao thrice between 1982-84, when Indira Gandhi was still PM, and once in early 1991, when he was out of power. The first meeting was held in September 1982 at the 46, Pusa Road residence of Kapil Mohan. The second meeting also took place at Pusa Road, the third one was held at Anil Bali’s residence in Friends Colony. The fourth meeting was held at 10, Janpath.”

V. P. Singh – manufactured a new axis of political power

V.P. Singh who became prime minister in December 1989 was a Congressman in his earlier avatar.In this section, Neerja has written, how VP chose PM at the Odisha Bhawan in Delhi, where veterans like Devi Lal and Chandra Shaekar had tried hard to take the PM post. Finally VP showed his leadership of collaboration, since he was the face of this election by the united opposition.After his exit from congress VP formed the Janmocha and Janta Dal. The government was formed in the name of United Front, where right-wing BJP and Left Parties were supported, although, the tenure of this government was short but made a lasting impact on Indian society and politics,

V P Singh sacked Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal on 1 August 1990, over discord in the party.Since Devi Lal had a stronghold in backward caste, VP suddenly decided to recommend the Mandal commission report, which had recommended 27% of reservations in the government job for socially & economically backward castes in the central government. This report was on the “cold storage” for almost one decade, since it was submitted to the President of India in 1980. There is an interesting anecdote: the Rath Yatra was already planned before VP Singh’s decision.But here is the theory of countering each other on their political agenda, Kamandal versus Mandal. One can still observe the heat of this kind of politics or political mobilisation.

P.V. Narasimha Rao: Economic reforms and demolition of Babri Masjid

In this chapter, Neerja Chowdhry talked about P.V. Narasimha Rao.He was the second Congress Prime Minister from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family and the first Congress Prime Minister to head a minority government that completed a full five-year term. He introduced Economic liberalization when he chose Manmohan Singh as a Finance Minister to take the lead for privatization.

Neerja also captured in her book, how P V Narasimha Rao handled the crisis on 6 December 1992 when Hindutva goons demolished historic Babri Masjid. She referred to the talk between veteran journalists Nikhil Chakravartty had with Rao days after the demolition “I heard you were doing puja afternoon on December 6,” Chakravartty teased Rao. A stung Rao shot back at Chakravartty, “Dada, you think I don’t know politics. I was born in Rajniti (politics) and I have only been doing politics till today. Jo hua voh theek hua…. (What happened happened for good.) Maine is liye hone diya…ki Bharatiya Janata Party ki mandir ki rajniti hamesha ke liye khatam ho jaaye (I allowed it to happen because I wanted the BJP’s temple politics to finish forever).”

On some other occasion, P V Nirsima Rao told to his biographer Vinay Sitapati ‘ Who has not made a mistake?’ Rao went on ‘(But) why should I be blamed for something I have not done?’

Atal Bihari Vajpayee- Moderate face for their politics

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one who started his parliamentary inning during the first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawharah Lal Nehru. Neerja quoted the statement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ‘I am the longest prime minister in waiting’ as told by Janta Parrty leader Krishna Kant. LK Advani projected him as prime minister in 1995 at a meeting in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park.

In May 1998, India successfully conducted nuclear tests in Pokhran under the leadership of Vajpayee but the same man opposed the test in 1979 as foreign minister under the Morarji Desai premiership. This decision also explains, how the prime minister decided, as Neerja narrated, during 1979, Vajpayee’s foreign Secretary was Jagath Singh Mehta. In May 1998, when Vajpayee’s decision was enabled by Brajesh Mishra, as a Principal Secretary of PM. This also tells the process, the influences and us made during decision-making,

Manmohan Singh- Breaking All Barriers

This last section of the book is about Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was sworn in as Prime Minister of India on 22nd May 2004, this itself is a story of the middle class, who achieved everything based on his education and administrative acumen, who breaks his own records of success. The media portrayed him weakest PM of India, the same person has made the historic nuclear deal with the United State.

The most progressive legislations formulated during his time, like the Right to Information Act and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005 and The Forest Rights Act in 2006, were the path-breaking for the social development of the most marginalized. In 2009, the Congress party came back to power with an increased majority.

In the last paragraph of the epilogue as Neerja ends beautifully “Personifying India’s plural ethos, Nehru and Patel showed that it was possible for two divergent strands of thinking to coexist and collaborate for a national cause. The discovery of power is most secure when it is shared, especially with those who act as a sounding broad rather than an echo chamber.”

Conclusion- This book tells us history and politics of PMs and PMOs during those six PMs , through the excellent book, where Neerja exemplified the power of prime ministers and how that power is being played out under different circumstances differently. This also tells us, how one decision changed the entire direction of the country. There are many subjects in this book in this single text, which can be distributed differently, each prime minster should have sub-chapters to better understand forthose who don’t have a contextual understanding of Indian politics.

How Prime Minsters Decide is a must-read for students of politics, journalism or policymakers, to understand, how our democracy runs on a day-to-day basis when it comes to decision-making. This is a huge contribution by Neerja Chaudhary for giving this solid work.

 The article was originally published here


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