FORMER Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Pranab Mukherjee had every “reason to be aggrieved if he believed he was better qualified to be the Prime Minister.”

At the launch of the former President’s memoirs, The Coalition Years, which brought together key Opposition leaders on the same stage, Dr. Singh described Mr. Mukherjee as one of the greatest living Congressmen and parliamentarians, and recalled their association in the Finance Ministry since the early 1970s.

“Then came 2004 when Soniaji chose me as the Prime Minister and Pranabji was the most distinguished colleague that I had. He had every reason to feel a grievance that he was better qualified than I was to become the Prime Minister. But he also knows that I had no choice in the matter,” Dr. Singh remarked, evoking laughter. Dr. Singh also said he was a politician by accident while Mr. Mukherjee was a politician by choice.

The formal book launch turned into a virtual show of strength for many in the Opposition as the former President was joined by Dr. Singh, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M), CPI leader Sudhakar Reddy and Kanimozhi of the DMK on the dais.
The Bahujan Samaj Party was invited, but its Rajya Sabha member, Satish Chandra Mishra, did not turn up.

Mr. Akhilesh Yadav said the memoirs would serve as important notes for younger politicians like him.
“Just as a student is immensely helped by good notes before exams, elections are coming and your book will be very helpful for young politicians who are starting out. Especially when we enter into coalitions,” said the former U.P. Chief Minister.

Mr. Mukherjee said his book was about how he “looked at men and matters as an active political participant.” “I have tried to be as clinical as possible but I can’t claim the objectivity of a historian as I am a party activist,” he said.

When Mr. Yechury described the former President as a “man with an elephant’s memory”, Congress president Sonia Gandhi sitting in the front row of the audience corrected it to “two elephants’ memory.” “Much later I learnt that Dada gets angry when he doesn’t want to say No to a proposition that you have taken to him but doesn’t want to say Yes either,” said Mr. Yechury.

On Kanchi seer’s arrest

In the book, Mr. Mukherjee wrote he was furious over the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi in November 2004.

“During the Cabinet meeting, I was extremely critical of the timing of the arrest and questioned if the basic tenets of secularism of the Indian state were confined only to Hindu monks and seers? Would the state machinery dare to arrest a Muslim cleric during Id festivities?”

He said that in one of his meetings with Ms. Gandhi, he “returned with a vague impression that she might want to consider Manmohan Singh as the UPA’s presidential nominee”.

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