The Accidental Prime Minister: Who is Akshaye’s Sanjaya Baru?
Akshaye Khanna plays author Sanjaya Baru in the film.
Akshaye Khanna plays author Sanjaya Baru in the film.(Photo: Kamran Akhter/ The Quint)

The Accidental Prime Minister: Who is Akshaye’s Sanjaya Baru?

There is nothing ‘accidental’ about the controversy that The Accidental Prime Minister has elicited within hours of its trailer release.

A minute into the trailer, as Akshaye Khanna looks straight into the camera and says ‘Yeh desh ki kahani likhte hain, aur main in ki’, we are informed he is Sanjaya Baru, the film’s narrator and ‘media advisor to PM Manmohan Singh’. The film is based on the book by Baru.

But the first question at the end of the trailer, replete with Akshaye Khanna’s trademark brooding-eye and side-smirk-laden dialogues, is who is Sanjaya Baru ?

The first question, naturally, is what’s up with Akshaye Khanna’s multiple hairstyles?

1. So, Who Is Sanjaya Baru?

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Dr Sanjaya Baru served as the official spokesperson and media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from May 2004 to August 2008.

In an illustrious career, Baru has donned several hats. He was secretary general of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) till April 2018. He has taught economics at the University of Hyderabad, at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi, and at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

As a journalist, Baru has also served as editor of the Business Standard, chief editor of the Financial Express, and associate editor of the Economic Times and the Times of India.

He is an honorary senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and also serves as Director for Geo-economics and Strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

2. 'I Often Burnt My Fingers'

The Accidental Prime Minister is Baru’s memoir about his tenure as Manmohan Singh’s media advisor. The book, published on 20 April 2014, came 11 days into polling during the 2014 general elections and predictably kicked up a political storm.

A paragraph in the introduction to his book sets the tone and template of the narration to follow.

“Despite Dr Singh’s discouragement, I did publicise his work and project his personality. Indeed, I saw it as an integral part of my job. In the process, I often burnt my fingers, as the reader will learn, earning the ire of Gandhi family loyalists who treated any effort to promote the prime minister as an affront to the family.”
Sanjaya Baru, Introduction to The Accidental Prime Minister

3. Spoiler Alert! Manmohan Singh Gets Angry in the Book. TWICE.

In a career as distinguished as Baru’s, it is also, perhaps, his singular distinction to have been at the receiving end of Singh’s anger, twice.

Calm as a cucumber and with an expression that is the envy of poker players, Manmohan Singh has almost always come across as placid and his demeanour has seldom ever betrayed emotion.

Baru’s relationship with the former prime minister extends back to 1991, he writes. He had first met Singh when he was chairman of University Grants Commission and Baru, the associate editor of The Economic Times. It was a day after an interview of Singh that Baru got his first admonishment for failing to include an important paragraph in the published interview.

“The second was to come 16 long years later, when he chastised me for crediting him with an important decision that the Congress party was eager to claim was Rahul Gandhi’s idea.”
Sanjaya Baru; The Accidental Prime Minister; p15

The second one indeed came sixteen years later when Baru, as Singh’s media advisor, had sent out text messages, “half in jest” that the expansion of the NREGA scheme was Singh’s birthday gift as the decision was taken on the PM’s birthday.

“I do not want any credit for myself,” he snapped. He was still red with anger.  
Sanjaya Baru; The Accidental Prime Minister; p145

4. What Does Baru Say About Manmohan Singh ?

Being the PM’s Voice

The Accidental Prime Minister; p28
The Accidental Prime Minister; p28
(Photo: The Quint)

Establishing Manmohan Singh’s Credibility

The Accidental Prime Minister; p65
The Accidental Prime Minister; p65
(Photo: The Quint)

Toughest Challenge

The Accidental Prime Minister; p89
The Accidental Prime Minister; p89
(Photo: The Quint)

Manmohan vs Sonia

On allocating credit for the expansion of the NREGA scheme

The Accidental Prime Minister; p145
The Accidental Prime Minister; p145
(Photo: The Quint)

Mamonhan’s ‘Spin Doctor’

This was in relation to his second admonishment by Singh for trying to credit him for the expansion of the NREGA scheme.

The Accidental Prime Minister; p146
The Accidental Prime Minister; p146
(Photo: The Quint)

5. Best Film About a Prime Minister Goes To...

In conclusion, before we jump to conclusions about the film motives or messages, it is wise to remember that this is not the first film about a prime minister or with the words ‘prime minister’ in its title. That crown goes to Dev Anand, who, at 82, had written, directed, produced and starred as the prime minister in the 2005 film.

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