The late former President of India Pranab Mukherjee in his upcoming memoir holds Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responsible for the party’s devastating loss in the 2014 general election, according to excerpts released on Friday.
Mukherjee, who was a senior minister in the United Progressive Alliance government and the president between 2012 and 2017, died in August due to post-coronavirus complications.
His new book, The Presidential Years, is the fourth volume of his memoirs, and will be released in January 2021. In this first-person account, Mukherjee recollects the challenges he faced in his years as president – the difficult decisions he had to make and “the tightrope walk” he had to undertake to ensure that both constitutional propriety and his opinion were taken into consideration, said a statement released by the book’s publisher, Rupa.
In the book, Mukherjee recalled how some Congress members felt that if he were the prime minister in 2004, the party could have averted the 2014 Lok Sabha drubbing. “Though I don’t subscribe to this view, I do believe that the party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as president,” he wrote. “While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr [Manmohan] Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs.”
The former president also offered his views about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party leader employed “an autocratic style of governance” during his first term in power.
“While Dr Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature and the judiciary,” Mukherjee wrote.
“Only time will tell if there is a better understanding on such matters in the second term of this government,” Mukherjee said, adding that that the overall state of the nation “is reflective of the functioning of the prime minister and his administration”.
The book also reveals a minor diplomatic problem that arose during the visit of United States President Barack Obama in 2015, when the US Secret Service insisted that their president travel in a specially armoured vehicle that had been brought along by them, and not in the car designated for use by the Indian head of state.
“They wanted me to travel in the same armoured car along with Obama,” Mukherjee wrote. “I politely but firmly refused to do so, and requested the Ministry of External Affairs 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. It cannot be the other way around.”