NEW DELHI (AFP) - Mr Narendra Modi, tipped to be India's next prime minister, latched on Sunday onto a new tell-all book that alleges current Premier Manmohan Singh was a powerless puppet during his years at the top.
The book, written by a former media adviser to Dr Singh, hit the bookstores this weekend and hands ammunition to Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist opposition during a bitter, marathon election campaign under way.
Mr Sanjaya Baru's book The Accidental Prime Minister portrays Dr Singh as subservient to ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, who called the shots although she holds no official government position.
Mr Modi, who has campaigned on a platform of being a strong, decisive leader who can turn around the flagging economy, brought up the book while campaigning in the south, calling the government "remote-controlled". "I ask you all, people, what type of government do you want in India? Do you want a government in Delhi, a lame government? Do you want a dumb government? Do you want remote-controlled government?" he said at a rally in the town of Chikkaballapur.
"Two days ago a book has come out, an official who used to work in the Manmohan Singh government and his confidant has written this book. He has said this government is not being run by Manmohan Singh Ji (a Hindu phrase of respect)," Mr Modi told another rally in Haveri.
Dr Singh, 81, credited with leading India through radical reforms in 1991 when he was finance minister, is retiring at the elections after 10 years at the helm. Mrs Gandhi chose Dr Singh to become premier in 2004 when Congress won elections.
Traditionally, the president of India's ruling party is also premier. But Mrs Gandhi, who led Congress to power in 2004 and 2009, turned down the job, fearing her Italian birth would become an explosive political issue as Hindu nationalists said her foreign origin made her unfit to rule India.
Critics have long charged that Mrs Gandhi held the real reins of power in the Singh administration but Mr Baru's book is the first by a close advisor to the prime minister to make that claim.
Dr Singh's spokesman Pankaj Pachauri said on Saturday the book "smacks of fiction" and alleged Mr Baru misused a "privileged position" for "commercial gain". Mr Baru, who left as media adviser in 2008, replied he was "amused" by the reaction.
The book's release comes as India's six-week election is in full swing, with Mr Modi's BJP expected to win the largest number of seats and sweep Congress from power. Results are due May 16.
In the book, Mr Baru said Dr Singh decided early on to "surrender" to Mrs Gandhi and quotes the premier as saying he had "to accept the party president is the centre of power".
Dr Singh thought he could choose Cabinet ministers but "he was defanged" as "Sonia nipped that hope in the bud", said Mr Baru.
The author added that Dr Singh had little authority over his cabinet and a senior bureaucrat would seek Gandhi's "instructions on the important files to be cleared by the PM".