Tribune News Service
New Delhi, September 2
As Pranab Mukherjee's mortal remains were laid to rest on Tuesday, veteran Congress leaders remembered the stalwart who remained indispensable to the party and the UPA government even when he could never become Prime Minister—the post he openly coveted.
When then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi declined to be PM after the party staked claim to form the government in 2004, the expectation was that Mukherjee would be the next choice for the post. Sonia named Manmohan Singh instead.
“This expectation of my being named PM was possibly based on the fact that I had extensive experience in government while Manmohan Singh’s vast experience was as a civil servant with five years as a reformist finance minister,” Mukherjee wrote in his last book, 'The Coalition Years: 1996 to 2012'—admitting his ambition to be India’s prime minister.
Mukherjee mentioned in the same book that he was reluctant to work under Singh who had been his junior but he agreed to join the UPA government after Sonia Gandhi cited his indispensability to the regime.
As it turned out, Singh would talk to Mukherjee on all important issues and in Mukherjee’s own words, “Manmohan Singh seemed to depend” on him.
While the late leader went on to become a key crisis manager for the UPA, his political astuteness came in the way of his nomination as a presidential candidate in 2007.
The Left Parties had announced support for Mukherjee’s nomination for the top office at the time with others seconding it and the decision was left to Sonia Gandhi.
She declined to let Mukherjee go and told him, “Your name is being suggested as a presidential candidate by some political parties but it would be difficult for us to spare you as you are a strong pillar of the party in the government and the Parliament.”
It was only in 2012 that Mukherjee finally bagged the coveted nomination and proceeded to Raisina Hill.
A quintessential Congressman all his life, Mukherjee wrote in his memoirs of how as a child he nursed the ambition to become a member of the Congress Working Committee after reading biographical sketches of CWC members in his Rapid Reader Textbook in school in 1945.
“As a child, I nurtured the ambition to be a member of the CWC,” Mukherjee wrote.
He went on to serve the CWC from 1978 to 1986 and again from 1991 until 2012 when he became President of India.
The same CWC bid him an emotional farewell before he proceeded to occupy the highest constitutional office of India.
At the June 25, 2012, meet of the CWC, Sonia Gandhi famously declared to her colleagues, “I believe, like me, all of you will miss Pranab ji in the meetings of the CWC where his visible presence was so impressive and effective that we cannot imagine having a CWC meeting without him. Along with that, of course, I will miss some of his tantrums.”
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