Pranab was bet­ter qual­i­fied than me to be PM: Singh

‘He Would Be Jus­ti­fied In Feel­ing Ag­grieved, But I Had No Choice’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - TIMES NEWS NET­WORK

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 Yechury, 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. Akhi- lesh 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.

“He is a politi­cian by choice. He is the great­est politi­cian liv­ing in the coun­try. I be­came a politi­cian by ac­ci­dent when P V Narasimha Rao asked me to be­come the fi­nance min­is­ter,” Singh said.

The com­ments ap­peared a con­scious ef­fort to cap the in­ces­sant chat­ter about their re­la­tion­ship — some­thing which re­mained the grist of grapevine dur­ing the UPA regime with in­sid­ers on many oc­ca­sions in­sist­ing that the fric­tion was not merely a piece of imag­i­na­tion of the gos­sipy elite of Lu­tyen’s zone.

For Mukher­jee, be­ing passed over for Singh was seen as an es­pe­cially cruel blow be­cause he hap­pened to be Singh-the-bu­reau­crat’s su­pe­rior more than once dur­ing ear­lier Congress regimes. Given the con­text, Mukher­jee’s elec­tion as Pres­i­dent was seen to have re­stored par­ity, with Singh again re­port­ing to him, that is, in terms of pro­to­col, for his last two years as PM. Singh said he was “grate­ful” for Mukher­jee’s help in man­ag­ing the UPA coali­tions.“If UPA was smooth, a large mea­sure of credit goes to Mukher­jee,” he said.

PTI

Ex-Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee and ex-PM Man­mo­han Singh at the re­lease of the for­mer’s book ‘The Coali­tion Years’ in New Delhi

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