Pranab was better qualified than me to be PM: Singh
‘He Would Be Justified In Feeling Aggrieved, But I Had No Choice’
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.
Ex-President Pranab Mukherjee and ex-PM Manmohan Singh at the release of the former’s book ‘The Coalition Years’ in New Delhi