Former President Pranab Mukherjee recently released the third part of his chronicle ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’. In that he had expressed his anger over denied opportunities to him as PM of this country. The best part of the event was that the former PM Manmohan Singh who launched the book has confessed stating, Mukherjee has every reason for criticism at being ignored for prime-ministership despite being more qualified but knew “I had no choice” in the matter, and that smoothened their relationship. Singh’s comments at the launch of Mukherjee’s book–‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’ –in the presence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul Gandhi left the audience in splits. In 2004, when Sonia Gandhi chose him to become the prime minister, Pranab Mukherjee was one of the most distinguished colleagues that he had. Mukherjee wrote in his book that after the 2004 General Election victory there was an intense speculation in the party. Mukherjee also said that when he declined to join the government headed by Manmohan Singh, Sonia insisted on his being a part of it as he would be “vital to its functioning and also be of support of Singh”. Mukherjee, in his speech at the book release function, described the Congress as a coalition in itself, as it brings all ideas on one platform. But Manmohan Singh underlined how his elevation did not impact the relations between them. They had worked together in various capacities since 1970. As Finance Minister back in the 70s, Mukherjee was Singh’s boss and later appointed him as Central Bank Governor too.
Pranab Mukherjee was widely expected to be the choice of Congress party for the Prime Minister’s post after Sonia Gandhi declined to lead the government in 2004. This is the first time, however, that a top Congress politician has spoken about it in public, and acknowledged the disappointment that Pranab Mukherjee must have felt. In an interview given to media after being named as the UPA’s nominee for President back in 2012, Mukherjee had insisted that he didn’t feel bad when he was overlooked for the PM’s job because the party had given him a lot more than he had given to it. But now when he completed his term as President of India, he contradicted what he said earlier. I remember that interview where he said “Why should I regret? The party President has trusted me, has considered me capable of discharging certain responsibilities, by me alone”. With the preparations of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections already in motion, Pranab Mukherjee also reiterated that the media should not write-off Congress. Mentioning his former colleague and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee refused to agree that he was controlled by Sonia Gandhi. He just refuted the propaganda spread by BJP that Manmohan is a rubber stamp PM. Mukherjee was very blunt in saying, no such thing ever happened, rather Singh was given free hand to lead the nation and his position. Anyways, this book has so much to correct the image of Manmohan Singh. To my surprise, Pranab da chose Singh to launch his book than inviting BJP’s warlords to do the honour; probably his intention was to keep Congress party out of unwanted politics. He can be unhappy with his party supreme but his loyalties towards Congress are very much staunch.
Mukherjee’s political career began in 1969, when he managed the successful Midnapore by-election campaign of an independent candidate, V. K. Krishna Menon. Then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, recognised Mukherjee’s talents and recruited him to her party, the Indian National Congress. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in July 1969. He was one of the Gandhi loyalists, and is often described as “man for all seasons”. Mukherjee’s rise was rapid in the early phase of his career and he was appointed Union Deputy Minister of Industrial Development in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in 1973. Mukherjee was active in the Indian cabinet during the controversial Internal Emergency of 1975–77. Ruling Congress politicians of the day including Mukherjee were accused of using extra-constitutional powers to “wreck established norms and rules of governance”. Following the Congress’s defeat in the 1977 general elections, the newly formed Janata government-appointed Shah Commission indicted Mukherjee; however, the commission was itself later indicted for stepping “outside its jurisdiction” in 1979. Mukherjee emerged unscathed and rose through a series of cabinet posts to become Finance Minister from 1982 to 1984. His term was noted for his work in improving the finances of the government that enabled Gandhi to score a political point by returning the last instalment of India’s first IMF loan. As Finance Minister, Mukherjee signed the letter appointing Manmohan Singh as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
In spite of reaching all highs, Mukherjee was sidelined from the INC following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Although Mukherjee was much more experienced in politics than Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, it was Rajiv who gained control. Mukherjee lost his position in the cabinet and was sent to manage the regional West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. He had considered himself to be Indira’s likely successor and, siding with those within his party who aligned themselves against Rajiv Gandhi, Mukherjee was eventually expelled. In 1986, Mukherjee founded another party, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC) in West Bengal. The RSC and INC merged three years later after reaching a compromise with Rajiv Gandhi. The RSC had fared terribly in the 1987 Assembly polls in West Bengal. Many analysts, over the years, have attributed the muting of Mukherjee’s political aspirations as the supreme leader due to his inability to emerge as a magnetic mass leader. On later being asked that did he ever desire to become Prime Minister, Mukherjee, however, replied, “7 RCR was never my destination.”
Mukherjee’s political career revived following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 when P. V. Narasimha Rao chose to appoint him as Deputy Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission and subsequently as a Union Cabinet Minister. Mukherjee served as External Affairs Minister for the first time from 1995 to 1996 in Rao’s cabinet. Mukherjee today is considered to be a Gandhi family loyalist and the principal architect of Sonia Gandhi’s entry into politics, a mentoring responsibility he is still believed to be shouldering. He was made General Secretary of the AICC in 1998–99 after Sonia Gandhi became Congress President. It was speculated in 2004 that Mukherjee would be made Prime Minister of India after Sonia Gandhi unexpectedly declined the position. However, Gandhi eventually nominated Manmohan Singh to become Prime Minister. Mukherjee was briefly considered for the post of the largely ceremonial Indian presidency in 2007 but his name was subsequently dropped after his contribution in the Union Cabinet was considered practically indispensable. In 2012, he became 13th President of India until 2017. In a political career spanning six decades, Mukherjee was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and occupied several ministerial portfolios in the Government of India. In 2017, Mukherjee decided not to run for re-election and to retire from politics after leaving the presidency due to “health complications relating to old age”.
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