Pranab Mukherjee’s memoirs give deep insight into Indian political history

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By: Harihar Swarup

India needs to tackle Pakistan through “deft handling” rather than “romanticising its political approach” and the country gained little by “over-talking” the surgical strikes of 2016, the late Pranab Mukherjee has written in his memoirs that also recall his “very cordial ties” with PM Narendra Modi who he said earned his prime ministership by leading BJP to a historic win.

“India must pursue its Pakistan-related policies with utmost care and deft handling, and not through romanticising its political approach. Surgical strikes conducted by Indian forces across the border have been normal military operations in response to Pakistan’s continued aggression. But there is really no need to over-publicise them – something that has been done ever since the Indian military conducted two strikes inside Pakistan territory since 2016. We gained nothing by over-taking on these operations,” Mukherjee wrote.

The former President said Modi earned the prime ministership and referred to his predecessor Manmohan Singh as “essentially an economist” named as PM by Sonia Gandhi. “Modi, on the other hand, became PM through popular choice after leading BJP to a historic victory in 2014. He is a politician to the core and had been named BJP’s prime ministerial candidate as the party went into campaign mode. He was then Gujarat’s CM and had built an image that seemed to click with the masses. He has earned and achieved the prime ministership,” he said.

Offering a ring side view of politics and political leaders, Mukherjee said he had come to expect the unexpected from Modi. “It was evident that one could expect the unexpected from Modi, because he had come with no ideological foreign policy baggage. He was to continue with these surprises: he made a sudden and unscheduled stop at Lahore in December 2015 to greet his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s birthday; and he initiated an annual informal summit with the Chinese president – one was held at Wuhan in China in 2018 and the other, more recently, at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu in 2019. I personally feel that PM Modi’s stopover in Lahore was unnecessary and uncalled for, given the conditions that prevailed in India-Pakistan relations,” he said.

Mukherjee said every PM had a style of functioning. Lal Bahadur Shastri, he said, took positions that were very different from that of Nehru, despite being from the same party. Nehru, Mukkherjee said, dealt with Nepal very diplomatically, and “rejected” an offer to me made an Indian province. “After the Rana rule was replaced by the monarchy in Nepal, he wished for democracy to take root. Interestingly, Nepal’s king, Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, had suggested to Nehru that Nepal be made a province of India. But Nehru rejected the offer on the ground that Nepal was an independent nation and must remain so,” Mukherjee said, nothing that Indira Gandhi would have reacted differently.

Mukherjee completed his memoir ‘The Presidential Years, 2012-2017’ before his death last year. The book, published by Rupa Publications was released on Tuesday.

“BJP emerged with a simple majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time and was thus able to form the government, though it still did so by co-opting its allies. Only Piyush Goyal was confident that BJP would get no less than 265 seats, and that the number could go up to 280. I didn’t and still don’t know the reasons for his optimism,” he wrote.

Mukherjee acknowledged that Modi maintained the constitutional tradition of keeping the President informed and seeking his advice. “I have had very cordial relations with PM Modi during my tenure. However, I did not hesitate to give my advice on matters of policy during our meetings. There were several occasions when he echoed concerns that I had voiced. I believe he has managed to grasp the nuances of foreign policy quickly,” he wrote. (IPA Service)

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