Manmohan: Pranab was better qualified to be PM
New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Pranab Mukherjee would be justified in feeling aggrieved on being passed over for the top job in 2004 since the former President was better qualified to lead the government, but added that he “had no choice in the matter” as the decision to install him was that of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
“In 2004, Mukherjee had all reason to feel the grievance that he was better qualified than me to be the PM but he knew that I had no choice,” Singh said at a function to release the third instalment of Mukjerjee’s book ‘Coalition Years’. The remark provoked loud guffaws on the dais that seated Mukherjee, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechu- ry, SP head Akhilesh Yadav, CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy and DMK’s Kanimozhi, as well as the front row which had Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. BSP’s SC Mishra, who was slated to be on the dais, did not turn up.
The occasion was marked by a strong push by non-Congress leaders for putting together an anti-BJP coalition. Reddy said the threat facing democracy had revived the need for an anti-BJP coalition. Akhilesh said Mukherjee’s lessons on coalition would be a big help ahead of the 2019 polls. Kanimozhi praised Mukherjee for condemning “intolerance” and stressing on the need for “dialogue” even while being the President. She said rights of states were being taken away under the BJP regime and a voice like Mukherjee’s would “make a difference”.
But it was Singh’s candid comments which turned out to be the highlight. It was his first ever remark on his relationship with Mukherjee, often described as tense because of the latter’s widely speculated resentment over having to make way for Singh in 2004 when Congress pulled of an upset to form the government.
Ex-President Pranab Mukherjee and ex-PM Manmohan Singh at the release of the former’s book ‘The Coalition Years’ in New Delhi