A former aide to India's outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has alleged in a new book that the leader of the world's biggest democracy has not been in charge of his own country.
In The Accidental Prime Minister, Sanjaya Baru, a former newspaper editor who served as Singh's spin doctor from 2004 to 2008, writes that the PM was "defanged" in his second term starting in 2004, deferring on cabinet appointments and major policy decisions to Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party which leads Singh's coalition government.
If true, the allegations would shed fresh light on an administration that has appeared asleep at the wheel while India's growth rate plummeted and the country was racked by a string of multibillion-pound corruption scandals concerning, among others, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the allocation of 2G telecoms licences and undervalued coal mining rights sold off by the government which purportedly cost the public purse more than £156bn in lost revenue.
An excerpt from the book gives a damning assessment of Singh's attitude towards corruption: "Dr Singh's general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others … In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers."
A statement released by the prime minister's office dismissed the book. It said: "It is an attempt to misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and to apparently exploit it for commercial gain. The commentary smacks of fiction and coloured views of a former adviser."
The statement added that when senior Indian editors met Singh in October and raised Baru's allegations, Singh replied: "Do not believe all he is saying."
Such an intimate portrait of dysfunction will certainly have political ramifications. India is in the midst of voting in a general election, a poll in which Congress is expected to fare badly. The allegations could further damage Sonia Gandhi, one of India's most powerful politicians, as well as her son and political heir, Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the current Congress campaign.