Manmohan Singh was preoccupied with saving his coalition during his second stint while Narendra Modi was autocratic in his first term as prime minister, former Indian President the late Pranab Mukherjee wrote in his memoirs.
The final volume of his memoirs, The Presidential Years (Rupa), will be published posthumously next month.
Mukherjee also did not subscribe to the theory that the Congress party would not have been drubbed in the 2014 general elections had he been made the prime minister in 2004, but wrote that the party lost focus after he was elevated to President in 2012.
Laying bare his thoughts on his relationship with the two prime ministers he worked with, who belonged to two parties and who were (and are) fiercely opposed to each other, Mukherjee wrote: “I believe that the moral authority to govern vests with the PM. The overall state of the nation is reflective of the functioning of the PM and his administration.
“While Dr Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature and the judiciary. Only time will tell if there is a better understanding on such matters in the second term of this government.”
Mukherjee was frank about the reasons for the dismal showing of the Congress party in the 2014 general elections: “Some members of the Congress have theorized 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.”
Mukherjee also revealed a minor diplomatic issue that arose during the visit of Barack Obama in 2015 when the US Secret Service insisted that the US President travels in a specially armored vehicle that had been brought from the US, and not in the car designated for the use by the Indian head of state.
“They wanted me to travel in the same armored car along with Obama. I politely but firmly refused to do so, and requested the MEA to inform the US authorities that when the US President travels with the Indian President in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements. It cannot be the other way around,” Mukherjee wrote.
The first three books are titled The Dramatic Decade (that focuses on the 1970s, when Mukherjee cut his teeth and plunged headlong into national politics), The Turbulent Years‘ (which opens in the 1980s and covers the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Rajiv Gandhi becoming prime minister), and The Coalition Years (from 1996 onwards).