NEW DELHI: If anyone is interested in a top-echelon insider’s take on parliamentary politics and how and why successive governments at the Centre did what they did—a rare behind-the-scenes peek into high statecraft—the book to pick up is ‘The Coalition Years 1996-2012’, the third volume of Pranab Mukherjee’s political autobiography.
To begin with, for someone who started from a small regional party in Bengal and became both the eminence grise and unfulfilled star player of India’s Grand Old Party, and finally rose to be the 13th President of India in 2012, Mukherjee’s is more than a ringside view—it’s a tale about the cut-and-thrust politics of Delhi durbar, narrated from the gladiator’s own perspective. Thirty-seven years of rich first-hand experience, transformative for him as well as the nation.
“There was intense speculation…about her choice. Within the Congress party, the consensus was that the incumbent must be a political leader with experience in party affairs and administration. Finally, she (Sonia Gandhi) named Dr Manmohan Singh as her choice and he accepted,” Mukherjee recounts.
Many thought he “would not join the government because I could not work under Manmohan Singh, who had been my junior when I was the finance minister…. She (Sonia), however, insisted I should join the government also to support Dr Singh.”
“The Congress had majority in the Lok Sabha, but because of the split, it was reduced to a strength of 90-member in a House of 245. As a consequence, the Upper House started asserting itself against the government, rejected many important legislations and constitutional amendments in spite of the fact that they were supported in the Lok Sabha….the bill of 1970 which sought to abolish privy purses failed to get two-thirds majority in the Rajya Sabha by a fraction of votes.”