Book Extract | Pranab Mukherjee’s diary note: ‘(Rahul’s) lack of charisma and political understanding is creating a problem. Can he revive Congress?’ | Books and Literature News


Former President late Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee in her book ‘Pranab, My Father – A Daughter Remembers’ has claimed that the former Congress stalwart expressed concerns on whether the Gandhi scion was the right person to lead the party post the 2014 debacle. The book that quotes from Mukherjee’s diary notes as well as personal conversations between him and Sharmistha, uncovers the decades of Mukherjee’s Parliamentary career – from his close working days with Indira Gandhi to his tenure as President of India.

The book, due for release on December 11, Mukherjee’s birth anniversary, is published by Rupa Publications India.

Extract from the book:

Even before the election results were announced, it was clear that the 10-year rule of the UPA government was coming to an end. The mood in the Congress was gloomy. Several leaders of the party and the UPA came to meet Pranab before the elections. All the predictions pointed towards a victory for the BJP/NDA, yet none had anticipated such a washout for Congress. Finally, when the results were declared on 16 May 2014, the Congress had fallen to an all-time low with just 44 seats, while the BJP on its own got an absolute majority winning 282 seats.

That day, Pranab wrote in his diary, ‘We shall have to see how this new man [Modi] emerges. Stability of the govt. is assured, but what about social cohesion? I am really worried.’

The next day, PM Dr Manmohan Singh handed over his resignation and that of the Cabinet to him. It was a poignant moment for Pranab. He noted, ‘I thanked him for his contributions as FM and PM for steady economic development of the country. He also thanked me for helping him in running the government for eight years. Our official association for more than 30 years comes to an end today. Farewells are always sad.’ After the meeting, Pranab broke all protocols to see off Dr Singh to his car. Another moving entry from that time was about his meeting with Sonia, just a few days before, on 13 May. Pranab noted, ‘She was looking sad and tired… Before leaving, she told me, “Pranabji, I am missing your presence every day since the last two years and I shall be missing you more now.” I was simply touched.’

Festive offer

Rahul visited Pranab after this disastrous defeat. Pranab found it surprising that ‘he [Rahul] gave his views on the election performance of the party in a most detached way, from a distance as an outsider as if he was not the face of the campaign and the main campaigner of the party’. Pranab further wrote, ‘Perhaps his distance from the party and a lack of killer instinct could be reasons for his failure to enthuse the party workers to fight the election which BJP got from Narendra Modi.’

The reports he got from his former colleagues in the Congress were not very encouraging. He noted that some leaders ‘poured venom’ against Rahul and many senior leaders complained that Rahul was not meeting them. Pranab felt that some of the comments made by Rahul reflected his political immaturity. He was also disappointed by Rahul’s frequent disappearing acts. Pranab believed that serious politics is a 24×7, 365-day job. He personally did not believe in taking time off, and diligently attended all official and party events. He felt that Rahul’s frequent breaks, particularly during a crucial period for the party, were causing him to lose the perception battle. Rahul was conspicuously absent during the flag-raising ceremony at the AICC on the party’s 130th Foundation Day on 28 December 2014, barely six months after the party’s devastating loss in the general elections. Pranab noted in his diary, ‘Rahul was not present at the AICC function. I don’t know the reason but many such incidents happened. As he got everything so easily, he does not value it. Soniaji is bent upon making her son the successor but the young man’s lack of charisma and political understanding is creating a problem. Can he revive Congress? Can he inspire people? I do not know.’

Pranab was also critical of the coterie around Rahul, possibly based on feedback received from senior party leaders. He advised Rahul to include both new and old leaders in his team. In this context, there was once a funny incident. One morning, during Pranab’s usual morning walk in the Mughal Gardens (now Amrit Udyan), Rahul came to see him. Pranab disliked any interruptions during his morning walks and puja. Nevertheless, he decided to meet him. It turned out that Rahul was actually scheduled to meet Pranab later in the evening, but his [Rahul’s] office mistakenly informed him that the meeting was in the morning. I came to know about the incident from one of the ADCs. When I asked my father, he commented sardonically, ‘If Rahul’s office can’t differentiate between “a.m.” and “p.m.”, how do they hope to run the PMO one day?’

However, he thought that perhaps Rahul could still get his act together. He noted in his diary that Rahul was making good interventions in Parliament on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill. On 2 March 2016, he noted, ‘Rahul made a good speech today in parliament. Good if he learns. It’s his 12th year in Lok Sabha, but better late than never.’

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there was a sense of anticipation within the Congress, and even in some sections of the media, that the party would perform significantly better than in 2014 and pose a formidable challenge to the BJP. During a conversation with my father, he said that he would acknowledge ‘the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as a leader if the Congress party wins 88 seats’. The reason behind this number remains unclear to me, perhaps it was a doubling of their existing count of 44 seats. I got angry and accused my father of being cynical. Unfortunately, he was correct. Congress could win only 52 seats. After the elections, when Rahul resigned as the Congress president and insisted on having a ‘non-Gandhi’ as the party president, I asked Baba’s views on it. He responded with a counter-question, ‘How much autonomy or authority would a “non-Gandhi” president have?’ I questioned why he was considering such a scenario. He snapped at me, ‘Don’t teach me Congress politics.’

Though Pranab was critical of Rahul and seemed to have lost faith in his ability to revive the Congress, one thing is undeniable. Had Pranab been alive today, he would have definitely appreciated Rahul’s dedication, tenacity and the outreach during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. This 145-day Yatra, spanning over 4,000 km, has arguably positioned Rahul as a highly credible face of the political narrative countering bigotry.

‘Pranab My Father: A Daughter Remembers’ by Sharmistha Mukherjee, will be released on Monday. The book is published by Rupa Publications


Mohd Aman

Editor in Chief Approved by Indian Government

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