Prime Minister Narendra Modi employed a “rather autocratic style of functioning”, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was “pre-occupied” with saving the UPA that took a toll on governance while Sonia Gandhi was “unable” to handle the affairs as Congress “lost” political focus ahead of Lok Sabha polls, former President Pranab Mukherjee has written.
The assessments of Mukherjee, who passed away on August 31, come in the fourth volume of his autobiography – ‘The Presidential Years: 2012-2017’ – that he finished days before his passing away. It will hit the stands next month.
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In the book that focuses on his time in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee stated that the moral authority to govern is vested with the Prime Minister and the overall state of the nation is reflective of the functioning of the Prime Minister and his administration.
“While Dr Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature, and the judiciary,” Mukherjee writes.
Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014 while Mukherjee, who was Finance Minister under Singh, was elected as President in July 2012.
“Only time will tell if there is a better understanding of such matters in the second term of this government”, Mukherjee was quoted by the publisher Rupa Publisher as writing in the book.
Mukherjee also analysed the Congress’ dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 when its tally was reduced to a dismal 44 and he appears to believe that his elevation as President and leaving active politics had an impact on the party’s functioning.
“Some members of the Congress have theorised that, had I become the Prime Minister in 2004, the party might have averted the 2014 Lok Sabha drubbing. Though I don’t subscribe to this view, I do believe that the party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as President,” according to Mukherjee.
“While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs,” Mukherjee writes.
Mukherjee’s comments are coming out in the public domain at a time a section of the Congress leaders are up in arms on the leadership question, amid indications that Sonia may not continue as party chief for long.
The autobiography also reveals the inner workings of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and reveals for the first time a “minor” diplomatic issue that arose during the visit of the then United States President Barack Obama in 2015.
The US Secret Service insisted that their President travel in a specially armoured vehicle that had been brought along from the US, and not in the car designated for use by the Indian head of state.
“They wanted me to travel in the same armoured car along with Obama. I politely but firmly refused to do so and requested the Ministry of External Affairs to inform the US authorities that when the US president travels with the Indian president in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements. It cannot be the other way around,” Mukherjee writes.
Sources said that the book will also have Mukherjee’s views on the controversial imposition of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh, demonetisation and surgical strikes, and his relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The first volume of his autobiography — ‘The Dramatic Years: The Indira Gandhi Years’ — focussed on his relationship with the former Prime President, the Emergency years, and Congress losing power.
‘The Turbulent Years: 1980-1996’ — the second volume — recorded the events, including the return of Congress to power, Indira’s assassination, his falling out with Rajiv Gandhi, return to Congress after forming his own party, and the Narasimha Rao years.
In the third volume — ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’, Mukherjee dealt with the United Front days, the ousting of Sitaram Kesri as Congress president, Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and UPA years till 2012 July when he was chosen as the President.