The Congress’s failure to recognise the end of its charismatic leadership was among the reasons for its defeat in the general elections in 2014, former President Pranab Mukherjee wrote in his memoir before his death last year. He felt that lack of extraordinary leaders reduced the establishment to a “government of averages”.
“I feel the party failed to recognise the end of its charismatic leadership. 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,” he wrote.
These comments are in his memoir ‘The Presidential Years, 2012-2017’ released by Rupa on Tuesday.
He refused to travel in then US President Barack Obama’s armoured vehicle during his visit to India in 2015. Mukherjee asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to inform the US authorities that when the US President travels with the Indian President in India, he would have to trust the security arrangements here.
Mukherjee says the surgical strikes conducted by Indian forces across the border were normal military operations in response to Pakistan’s continued aggression. He says there was “really no need to over-publicise them” and argues that “we gained nothing by over-talking on these operations.”
According to Mukherjee, the “multiple stated objectives of demonetisation” were not met. He also says that he was “personally not enthused” by the scrapping of the Planning Commission but did not wish to rake up a controversy by opposing it publicly. “I personally feel it was a mistake, indeed a blunder, to do away with the plan panel,” he says.
While he enjoyed good relations with Modi, Mukherjee makes some critical observations about him and some of his key decisions. He says that the Modi government failed in its “primary responsibility” to ensure the smooth and proper functioning of Parliament in its first term. Modi’s style of governance during his first term was “autocratic” and his December 2015 stopover in Lahore to greet the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday was “unnecessary and uncalled for” given the conditions that prevailed in India-Pakistan relations.
He also says that Modi “plays up personal equations” with foreign leaders “too much”, and “to take such relationships as true is a bit absurd”. For instance, he says, the “perception that India and Japan have become friends since the arrival of Modi as PM is not correct. We have had good relations with Japan even before 2014, and (Shinzo) Abe had visited India before Modi became PM”.
According to Mr Mukherjee, when he looked back on his years as President, he derived satisfaction not only from the fact that he followed the rule book in letter and spirit in dealing with governments and issues of the day, but also because he never veered from the constitutional parameters that have been laid down for an Indian head of state.
There are some bitter observations about the Congress too, including party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Mukherjee says the Congress’s defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was because it “had failed miserably to fulfill people’s expectations and aspirations”. Without taking names, he says “some senior Congress leaders’ political naiveté and arrogance hurt the fortunes of the party further.”
In then Arunachal Pradesh Governor Rajkhowa’s case, the Supreme Court had pulled him up in 2016 over the dismissal of the Congress government in the state a year earlier. Rajkhowa did not resign, despite a nudge by the central government, and in September 2016, the President dismissed him.
On demonetisation, he says Modi did not discuss the issue with him before announcing the decision on November 8, 2016. “However, after delivering his address to the nation, the PM visited me at Rashtrapati Bhavan and explained to me the rationale behind his decision. Modi outlined three main objectives of demonetisation: tackling black money, fighting corruption and containing terror funding. He desired an explicit support from me as a former finance minister of the country…Following the meeting, I issued a statement extending support to the principle of demonetisation,” he writes, but adds that while it is difficult to assess the exact impact of demonetisation, close to four years after it was implemented, one thing that can be stated without fear of contradiction is that the multiple objectives, as stated by the government, have not been met.