As the year comes to an end and the Congress gets ready to elect its new president early as part of its recovery plans, a new book by a man who knows all the deep secrets of the party is set to reveal how the UPA rose and fell, and is likely to stir debate on the role the leadership played in the election defeats.
Late former president Pranab Mujkherjee’s memoirs, titled The Presidential Years, will be globally released in January 2021, and among other things, it will recount the tussle for the Prime Minister’s post in the Congress.
It’s an open secret now that Mukherjee could never get over the fact that Sonia Gandhi never trusted him to become the PM and chose a ‘reliable’ Manmohan Singh instead. What upset him also was the fact that he had to report to a PM who had less political experience than him. Stories of open confrontations at cabinet meetings were common during Singh’s tenure.
This leads to the question whether Congress made a mistake by not changing the PM when Singh’s popularity dipped after a series of scams, and he seemed incapable of dealing with growing dissent within party and blackmail by allies.
Mukherjee has made a reference to this in his book. “Some members of the Congress have theorised that had I become the PM 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. 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.”
The disinterest of Singh was apparent by the mid-point of UPA-2, which is when some within the party felt that with Modi’s popularity on the rise, it was important to have someone who had deep political understanding to take on the BJP and the RSS.
The fall of UPA-2 was accelerated by the Anna Hazare movement and while Mukerjee was against negotiating with the protesters, he was forced to join in as Manmohan Singh and his advisors were nervous and felt it was important to reach out.
But any attempt by any Congress leader to suggest to Sonia Gandhi to change the PM was met with a stern rejection. She even refused to listen to the suggestion that Rahul Gandhi should take over mid-way, something which sources say even Singh was not averse to.
As 2014 general election results later showed, many of those who felt Pranab Mukherjee as PM would be a better fighter were proved right.