Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s memoir The Presidential Years, 2012-2017, published by Rupa and released on Tuesday (January 4), is a quite candid about the Congress’ troubles and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress’ defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections was mainly because it failed to realise that its charismatic leadership had come to an end, he has written. “Tall leaders like Pandit Nehru ensured that India, unlike Pakistan, survived and developed into a strong and stable nation. Sadly, such extraordinary leaders are not there anymore, reducing the establishment to a government of averages,” Mukherjee wrote.
He also writes about his reaction when he heard about Congress’ defeat. “It was difficult to believe that the Congress had managed to win just 44 seats,” he wrote, adding: “The Congress is a national institution interlinked with people’s lives. Its future is always a concern of every thinking individual.” He, however, mentioned that he was “greatly relieved over the decisive mandate but also disappointed at my one-time party’s performance”.
He wrote that he shared a cordial relationship with PM Modi in accordance with “the parliamentary form of government and its principles. He wrote: “Administrative powers are vested in the Council of Ministers, which the PM heads. Therefore, I did not breach my jurisdiction. Whenever tricky occasions arose, the issues were resolved.”
However, he wrote, “I did not hesitate to give my advice on matters of policy during our meetings. There were several occasions when he echoed concerns that I had voiced. I also believe that he has managed to grasp the nuances of foreign policy quickly.
“At an event in which PM Modi released a book and I was present, I remarked that it was not that I did not have any differences with him, but that both of us knew how to manage those differences, without bringing them out in public,” he added.
Regarding demonisation, Mukherjee wrote there was a reason for Modi not discussing it with him before announcing it. “I am of the firm opinion that demonetisation could not have been done with prior consultation because the suddenness and surprise, absolutely necessary for such announcements, would have been lost after such a process.
“Therefore, I was not surprised when he did not discuss the issue with me prior to making the public announcement. It also fitted in with his style of making dramatic announcements,” he wrote.
PM Modi later visited Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan following his address to the nation to explain to him the decision he made. “He desired an explicit support from me as a former finance minister of the country. I pointed out to him that while it was a bold step, it may lead to temporary slowdown of the economy. We would have to be extra careful to alleviate the suffering of the poor in the medium to long term,” Mukherjee said.
“Since the announcement was made in a sudden and dramatic manner, I asked the PM if he had ensured that adequate currency was there for exchange,” he added.
He, however, said that the NDA government, during its first term of 2014-19, failed in ensuring the smooth and proper functioning of Parliament. “I attribute the acrimonious exchanges between the Treasury and Opposition benches to the arrogance and inept handling by the government. But the Opposition is not without blame either. It had also behaved irresponsibly,” he wrote.
Mukherjee wrote that whether it was Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh, “each of these former PMs made their presence felt on the floor of the House,” adding, “PM Modi, now in his second term, must take inspiration from his predecessors and provide visible leadership, through his enhanced presence in Parliament to avoid situations that had precipitated the parliamentary crisis we witnessed in the first term.”
PM Modi, Mukherjee said, must listen to the dissenting voices and speak more often in Parliament, adding he must use it as a forum to disseminate his views to convince the Opposition and inform the nation.
He also felt that PM Modi’s stopover in Lahore in 2015 was “unnecessary and uncalled for, given the conditions that prevailed” in India-Pakistan relations.
“It was evident that one could expect the unexpected from Modi, because he had come with no ideological foreign policy baggage. He was to continue with these surprises: he made a sudden and unscheduled stop at Lahore in December 2015 to greet his then Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the latter’s birthday; and he initiated an annual informal summit with the Chinese president — one was held at Wuhan in China in 2018 and the other, more recently, at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu in 2019.”