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Sonia won’t make me PM: Pranab told daughter Sharmistha after 2004 drama

Sharmistha, while providing a glimpse into the illustrious life of her father in the book, says the former president did not have any bitterness against Sonia Gandhi for not making him the prime minister, and also not against the man chosen for the post—Manmohan Singh.

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In the book, Sharmistha uncovers new, hitherto unknown facets of his political life – his unfulfilled ambition of becoming India’s prime minister arising out of his inability to emerge as the ‘number one person’ to earn Sonia Gandhi’s trust, the personality cult around the Nehru-Gandhi family and Rahul Gandhi’s lack of charisma and political understanding among other things, according to the book’s publishers Rupa Publications.

Pranab Mukherjee, who served as commerce minister (1993–95), external affairs minister (1995–96 and 2006–09), defence minister (2004–06), and finance minister (2009–12). He was India’s 13th president (2012 to 2017). He died on August 31, 2020 at the age of 84.

After 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Congress emerged as the single largest party and its president Sonia Gandhi was tipped to be the prime minister, but she renounced her claim and proposed the name of Manmohan Singh instead of top contender Pranab Mukherjee.

In the chapter titled “The PM India Never Had”, Sharmistha also writes: “Following Sonia’s decision to withdraw from the prime ministerial race, there was intense speculation within the media and political spheres.

“The names of Dr Manmohan Singh and Pranab were being discussed as the top contenders for the position. I did not have the chance to meet Baba for a couple of days as he was terribly busy, but I spoke to him over the phone. I asked him excitedly if he was going to become the PM. His response was blunt, ‘No, she will not make me the PM. It’ll be Manmohan Singh.’ He added, ‘But she should announce it fast. This uncertainty is not good for the country’.”

Sharmistha adds that her father told a journalist that he did not have any expectation from Sonia Gandhi to make him the prime minister.

“If there’s no expectation, there’s no disappointment as well,” the book, which will be launched on December 11, the birth anniversary of Pranab Mukherjee, says.

“It is generally believed that Pranab had a chance to become the PM earlier in 1984 as well, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and not just in 2004,” it adds.

Sharmistha says that people often asked her whether the former president actually harboured the ambition to become the prime minister.

“His response was emphatic. He said, ‘Of course, I would like to be the prime minister. Any politician worth his salt has this ambition. But just because I want it does not necessarily mean I am going to get it,” she writes.

Sharmistha drew her own conclusions: “Pranab Mukherjee definitely had the desire to be the PM, but he also came to terms with the fact that he was not going to become one.”

Sharmistha says the entries in her father’s diary from those days contain very sketchy details, perhaps due to lack of time owing to a hectic schedule filled with meetings with various stakeholders.

On 17 May 2004, the former president wrote, “Sonia Gandhi decides to withdraw from Prime Ministerial candidature. BJP’s vicious campaign. Myself, Manmohan, Arjun, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi were called. We are stunned.”

On 18 May, he wrote, “Sonia Gandhi sticks to her decision. Countrywide agitation. Allies are also shocked. CPP meeting emotionally surcharged. Appeal to her to reconsider. Work up to 1 am.”

“On 19 May, almost with a sigh of relief, he wrote, ‘Issues resolved. Manmohan Singh becomes PM-designate. Manmohan and Soniaji met President and the President was pleased to give the mandate to form the government to Manmohan Singh”, the book says.

“On December 31, while recounting major events of the year, he wrote, “Most surprising was the amazing sacrifice of Sonia Gandhi by refusing to accept the Prime Ministership of the country despite pressure from within the party and outside. Her decision saved the country from a bitter confrontation between BJP and Congress.”

Sharmistha writes that her father felt Sonia Gandhi was “intelligent, hardworking and keen to learn. Once he told me that unlike many political leaders, her biggest strength was that she knew and recognized her weaknesses and was willing to work hard to overcome them. She knew that she lacked political experience but worked hard to understand the complexities of Indian politics and society”.

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Updated: 05 Dec 2023, 06:59 PM IST

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