* Book casts Indian premier as politically weak
* Unflattering account by insider embarrasses Singh
* Ruling Congress party already trailing in polls
By Tommy Wilkes
NEW DELHI, April 14 A new book accuses India's
prime minister of being weak and unable to stamp out corruption
on his watch, the second recent attack by an insider that
undermines the Congress party as it seeks re-election despite
trailing in opinion polls.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has cast the
world's largest ever election as a battle between its dynamic
and assertive leader Narendra Modi and the relatively
ineffective incumbent premier Manmohan Singh.
That impression was underlined in a book, published on
Monday, called "Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other
Truths" by P.C. Parakh, who retired as coal secretary in 2005.
It said Singh's inability to take on vested interests led to
the so-called "Coalgate" scandal, which rocked his premiership.
It was the second book in the last week to portray
81-year-old Singh, prime minister since 2004, as a
well-intentioned man of high personal integrity but one often
unable to assert his authority.
The other, by a former media adviser to Singh, was greeted
with glee by the BJP, and the party is expected to seize on the
Coalgate book to try to land another blow at a crucial time.
The BJP is favourite to emerge as the largest party in an
election that ends on May 12, although surveys conducted before
voting began last week suggest it is unlikely to win an outright
majority and will need to form a coalition with other parties.
Congress is headed for one of its weakest ever showings, the
same polls showed.
"SOME RESIST, OTHERS SUCCUMB"
The Coalgate scandal erupted in 2012 after the public
auditor questioned the government's awarding of mining
concessions without competitive bidding, which it said unduly
benefited chosen private and state companies and potentially
cost the treasury billions of dollars in lost revenues.
Parakh said that Singh, though keen to introduce open
bidding, could not tackle resistance from coal ministers in his
administration. Parakh said he himself came under pressure from
people interested in acquiring coal blocks.
"Pressures come in the form of enticements such as
post-retirement assignments, partnership in business, bribery,
blackmail or pure intimidation. Pressures also come from friends
and relations," Parakh wrote in the book.
"Some can resist these pressures. Others succumb," he said,
adding that at no time did the prime minister's office make
recommendations or exert pressure in favour of any party.
The prime minister's media adviser declined to comment on
specific allegations in Parakh's book, and referred to previous
comments the prime minister made in parliament.
The media adviser said the government was helping the courts
and police in their investigations into the affair, and that
there was no case against anyone in the prime minister's office.
Singh has consistently denied his government did anything
wrong, blaming the delay in introducing competitive bidding on
resistance from coal-rich states ruled by opposition parties.
He has said the findings of the state auditor in the 2012
report were "clearly disputable".
Former media adviser to Singh, Sanjaya Baru, alleged in a
book published on Friday that the prime minister allowed his
authority to be undermined by Sonia Gandhi, president of the
Congress party and standard-bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
In an interview on Monday, he commented on the prime
minister's handling of various scandals under his rule.
"In all these cases he was aware of what was happening, he
tried his best given the political limitations," Baru told TV
"Given those political limitations, he took the measures he
was able to take and what he could not do, he could not do. So
it was not as if he was blind."
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; additional reporting by Aditya
Kalra; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Mike Collett-White)