The high profile release of Pranab Mukherjee’s new book, the first after he demitted office as the 13th President of the Republic, in the presence of the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several erstwhile and present allies of the UPA, has triggered speculation regarding his possible return to the political arena. Significantly, none of the NDA leaders, with whom Mukherjee enjoyed a warm and close personal relationship, were invited for the function held at the Teen Murti auditorium, to reiterate the ideological dimension of the exercise.
Concurrently, the direct fallout of Dr Manmohan Singh’s comments on the occasion that Mukherjee was more qualified to be the Prime Minister than he was, is that the Congress settled for the second best person to be the head of government during its ten-year rule, a poor reflection on how it treated the country.
Thirdly, the event was used deftly by Sonia Gandhi to declare from the sidelines that Rahul would soon be taking over from her, thereby putting to rest conjectures in relation to her son’s future, as well as sending a signal to the former President that the party was now going to go ahead in choosing its new leader and saw in him a former associate whose contributions would always be treasured.
Mukherjee is acknowledged by even his critics as the most accomplished and astute political leader of our times, and he has evidently released his memoirs to drive home the point that the “Coalition Years” (the title of his book) were not yet over, and thus the alliances by the opposition would be necessary to challenge the supremacy of the BJP in general, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular. In other words, it is more so because the Congress has run out of steam and, therefore, requires crutches for assistance to regain its lost status.
Although Mukherjee has not upfront expressed his desire to be on the centre stage, yet the setting of the book launch clearly suggested that there was a well-calibrated move to resurrect the former President in a new avatar, where he could be the rallying point for secular parties, given that many of the current leaders would cross one another out for the flimsiest of reasons. It virtually is obvious that Rahul’s elevation as the party chief later this month was not a guarantee of his being selected to head a possible coalition of parties to take on the BJP and the NDA. He would first have to cope with difficulties within the grand old party before he seeks out to look for greener pastures.
On the other hand, Mukheree, while displaying both reluctance and hesitation, would wait to be invited by political parties to give them direction. As a matter of fact, the presence of CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, CPI leader Sudhakar Reddy, and DMK MP and M. Karunanidhi’s daughter, M.K. Kanimozhi provided palpable proof that Mukherjee’s leadership was acceptable to all these outfits. Each one of them applauded the former President and eulogised him for his meritorious traits, including his sharp memory, political acumen and comprehension of the affairs of the state.
Dr Manmohan Singh, for the first time openly acknowledged at a public forum that Mukherjee had everything that was required to be the Prime Minister, and he was definitely more suitable for the job than he was, but looking towards Sonia Gandhi, who was seated on the front row, stated, “he had no choice in the matter”. A notable feature of Singh’s admission was that he also regarded Sharad Pawar, besides Mukherjee, to be an extremely competent person, whose sound advice on important matters could never be brushed aside.
Singh’s undiluted admiration and endorsement of his former colleague sent in the political space the accurate kind of signals, thus propping up the former President as a future political star. It also showed Singh’s naiveté, since his statement inadvertently led analysts to conclude that the UPA, in choosing him, had faltered, while ignoring the most suitable person for the prime ministership—a matter that has serious consequences, because in plainspeak, it purported that he (Singh) had been thrust on the nation.
Anticipating that his highly-publicised book release would trigger speculation, Mukherjee, known for his insight and perceptiveness, clarified in an interview to a magazine that he could not be the Prime Minister since he was “in the Rajya Sabha” and “could barely speak Hindi”. The reference to Rajya Sabha was to highlight that Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister despite being in Rajya Sabha and that H.D. Deve Gowda was the head of the government despite knowing little of either Hindi or English. Thus Mukherjee, through a play of words, overcame what could subsequently be seen as his limitations, and sent a missive that if he had to be accepted it would be on the way he was.
Aware that Mukherjee’s event could lead to speculation, Sonia Gandhi, who originally was not scheduled to attend the function, showed up accompanied by Rahul Gandhi. A normally reticent Sonia Gandhi spoke briefly to a TV channel to indicate that Rahul’s election as party president could happen soon after Diwali. Her comment could have made headlines, but Singh’s genuine praise of Mukherjee became the highlight of the evening.
It was clear to everyone, that if presented with an opportunity, Mukherjee could come out of his recent retirement and he, in any case, was by no means going to lead the life of a political recluse. The last word, on the subject is yet to be heard.