Former President Pranab Mukherjee has revealed in his memoir that Prime Minister Narendra Modi "earned and achieved" the prime ministership "through popular choice" unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
Singh "was offered the post by Sonia Gandhi," he wrote. Detailing several big decisions and events in India during the five years of his tenure as President, Mukherjee in his memoir called "The Presidential years, 2012-2017" offered a ringside view of Indian politics and political leaders and also talked about India-Pakistan relations.
The 197-page book he completed before his death last year was released on January 5 and contains 11 chapters.
"The route to prime ministership for the two PMs I worked with was very different. Dr (Manmohan) Singh was offered the post by Sonia Gandhi; she had been chosen as the prime ministerial candidate by the Congress Parliamentary Party and other constituents of the UPA, but she declined the offer," Mukherjee wrote in his memoir. However, he noted that Singh possessed "determination", "a strong sense of propriety", and a "steely willpower."
Praises for PM Modi
Heaping praises on PM Modi, Mukherjee wrote, "He (Singh) did well as a PM. Modi, on the other hand, became PM through popular choice after leading the BJP to a historic victory in 2014. He is a politician to the core and had been named the BJP's prime ministerial candidate as the party went into campaign mode. He was then Gujarat's CM and had built an image that seemed to click with the masses. He has earned and achieved the prime ministership."
The late President said that (PM) Modi made an impression on him during his first meeting itself when the PM-designate met him officially along with some senior BJP leaders to stake claim to form the government.
"I congratulated Modi, who requested for some time to speak with me. Using a newspaper clipping that had reported on my earlier speech (2014 Republic Day address) hoping for a politically stable mandate, he asserted that he had achieved the objective of a clear majority that I had envisaged," Mukherjee wrote adding that "thereafter, he requested for a week's time before the swearing-in ceremony. I was surprised at his request. He insisted that he needed time to address the issue of his successor in his home state, Gujarat. He, however, confirmed to me that he had no such problems in cabinet formation at the Centre."
Camaraderie with PM Modi
Further talking about PM Modi, Mukherjee said that despite being a Congressman all his life, he, as President, enjoyed "very cordial relations" with the former during his tenure. Such was the extent of his camaraderie with the prime minister that Mukherjee even used to have discussions with PM Modi before he embarked on an overseas visit. The prime minister would also send him a written note detailing the focal points of relations with the particular country.
"He would send me a letter in which the core points of our bilateral relations were mentioned. It was a practice initiated by PM Modi," the late President disclosed. He added that ahead of his visit to Russia in 2015, he was advised by the prime minister to have "detailed discussions with (President Vladimir) Putin on aspects ranging from civil nuclear cooperation and space to the process of delivering defence hardware, including Sukhoi-30 and other sensitive equipment, as well as higher education."
Intriguingly, the late President expected a "hung Parliament" in 2014 with the BJP emerging as the single largest party with around 195-200 seats. Mukherjee revealed that he was even preparing to invite Congress to form the government even when it had lesser seats but assured a stable regime.
"It would have been my constitutional responsibility to ensure stability. Had the Congress emerged with fewer seats but promised a stable government, I would have invited the leader of the party to form the government, keeping in mind their previous track record in managing coalition governments successfully," he wrote in his memoir.
"This would have been in contravention of the convention established by the former president, Shankar Dayal Sharma, of inviting the single-largest party to form the government. He had invited Vajpayee to form the government after a hung House in 1996, despite lack of clarity on Vajpayee's numbers. I was convinced even before the 2014 elections that I would not be neutral between stability and instability," Mukherjee added.
As per him, he was "greatly relieved over the decisive mandate" but was disappointed at the same over his "one-time party's performance."
Talking about the leadership of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the late President was of the view that she failed to manage party affairs appropriately. He said that since (Manmohan) Singh stayed away from the House for a long time, MPs lost contact with the party and the Congress leadership could not demonstrate its capability in challenging times. Mukherjee stated that Sonia Gandhi also failed to handle Maharashtra's leadership crisis.
Sharing his opinion on India and Pakistan relations, the late President suggested that the former needs to tackle the latter through "deft handling" instead of "romanticising its political approach".
"India must pursue its Pakistan-related policies with utmost care and deft handling, and not through romanticising its political approach,"
Mukherjee added that India gained a little by "over-talking" about the surgical strikes of 2016.
The late President said that such strikes by Indian forces across the border have been "normal military operations in response to Pakistan's continued aggression" and that "there is really no need to over-publicise them."
He further stated that PM Modi's surprise visit to Lahore to attend the birthday of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter was "unnecessary and uncalled for" in the wake of prevailing conditions in India-Pakistan relations at that time.
Mukherjee added that it would be in India's interests to continue engagement with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan.