He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 2019. (Image: News18)
The final volume of former President Pranab Mukherjee’s memoirs- ‘The Presidential Years, 2012-2017’ – was released on January 5.
Mukherjee, who passed away in August last year, served as 13th president of India between 2012 and 2017. In a political career spanning five decades, he was a senior Congress leader and occupied several ministerial portfolios, including defence, finance, external affairs, to name a few, at the Centre. In 2019, he was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Mukherjee has summed up his career in the four volumes. Before the final volume, the three — Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, ‘The Turbulent Years: 1980-1996’ and ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’— have been published since 2014.
As the President of India, Mukherjee worked with two prime ministers — Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. In ‘Presidential Years’ published by Rupa, he says while Manmohan Singh was offered the Prime Ministerial post by Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi became Prime Minister through popular choice after leading the BJP to a historic victory in 2014.
While Modi employed a rather autocratic style of functioning, Manmohan Singh was pre-occupied with saving the coalition government, which took a toll on the UPA government as the Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle Congress party’s affairs, Mukherjee points out in his observational account on host of issues as viewed by him during his term as the president of India.
Sonia, Manmohan responsible for Congress’ defeat in 2014
Mukherjee believed that the the failure to recognise the end of its charismatic leadership was a major reason for Congress party’s drubbing in 2014.
“It was difficult to believe that the Congress had managed to win just 44 seats,” he says in the book lamenting that extraordinary leaders like “Nehru who ensured that India, unlike Pakistan, survived and developed into a strong and stable nation” were not there anymore, reducing the establishment to a “government of averages.”
Mukherjee blames former PM Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for the defeat as the party’s leadership lost political focus after he became the president.
“While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs,” he writes
PM Modi must speak more often in Parliament
Mukherjee says he had cordial relations with PM Modi but was critical of some of his decisions. He writes that Modi-led NDA government’s first term (2014–19) failed in its primary responsibility to ensure proper functioning of Parliament.
“PM Modi, now in his second term, must take inspiration from his predecessors and provide visible leadership, through his enhanced presence in Parliament to avoid situations that had precipitated the parliamentary crisis we witnessed in the first term,” Mukherjee writes in the book that mentions PM Modi 67 times.
Over-publicising surgical strikes’unnecessary’, PM’s unscheduled Lahore stop ‘uncalled for’
The former president believed that there was no need to “over-publicise” the 2016 surgical strikes -a ‘normal’ military operations in response to Pakistan’s continued aggression.
“We gained nothing by over-talking on these operations,” he writes.
The PM’s unscheduled stop at Lahore in December 2015 to greet Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, on the latter’s birthday was ‘unnecessary and uncalled for” considering relations between the two countries, Mukherjee writes.
He also felt that PM Modi ‘plays up” personal relations with foreign leaders ‘too much’.
He however applauds PM Modi on some ‘out-of-the-box’ initiatives on foreign affairs such as inviting SAARC leaders, including Pakistan’s then PM, Nawaz Sharif, to his oath-taking in 2014.
Not surprised by PM Modi not informing him about demonetisation
Mukherjee writes that PM Modi didn’t discuss the November 8, 2016 decision of demonetisation with him before announcing it. But, he says, he was not surprised because it “fitted in with his (Modi) style of making dramatic announcements.” Modi, however, visited the president to explain the rationale behind the decision after the address to the nation, he writes.
Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘penchant’ for dharna against CM’s dignity
Mukherjee writes that his advice to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal against his penchant for sitting on ‘dharna’ over frivolous issues lead to turnaround in his conduct.
“I told him that, while all this was fine when he was an activist, if he persisted with the same strategy as CM, it would not add to the dignity of the high office he occupied. I can say that my conversation with him on the importance of balancing power with responsibility did lead to some turnaround in his conduct.”
Rahul Gandhi consulted the president on key legislations
The book mentions Rahul Gandhi twice. One about Rahul Gandhi consulting him on crucial legislations such as on land and the other in April 2017 when Rahul Gandhi was part of a delegation to submit a memorandum on the alleged irregularities EVMs.
Refused to travel in Obama’s specially-armoured vehicle
Barack Obama became the first US president and was invited as chief guest at the Republic Day in 2015. The US Secret Service wanted President Mukherjee to travel in the special-armoured car along with Obama. But,Mukherjee says he requested the MEA to inform the US authorities that “when the US president travels with the Indian president in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements.”