Pranab Mukherjee Knew Sonia Gandhi Will Not Make Him The Prime Minister, New Book Reveals

The upcoming book by Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee, reveals the unknown facets of his political life. The author delves into the speculation around the 2004 PM choice and also writes about how her father felt about Rahul Gandhi.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee

In 2004, when the entire country was speculating if Pranab Mukherjee, a Gandhi loyalist, would be named the next prime minister after Sonia Gandhi declined the position, he told his daughter Sharmistha that Gandhi “will not make me the PM”. 

In her upcoming book "In Pranab, My Father: A Daughter Remembers”, Sharmistha Mukherjee writes about her father’s cryptic response when asked about his chances of becoming the prime minister. The former Congress spokesperson, who quit politics in 2021, provides a glimpse into the illustrious life of Pranab Mukherjee through his diary entries, anecdotes and personal stories narrated to her.

Unveiling new facets of his political life, Sharmistha writes about her father’s unfulfilled ambition of becoming India's prime minister which arose out of his inability to emerge as the 'number one person' to earn Sonia Gandhi's trust. She also delves into the personality cult around the Nehru-Gandhi family and Rahul Gandhi's lack of charisma and political understanding among other things, according to the book's publisher Rupa Publications.

As the president of the single-largest party to win the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Sonia Gandhi was tipped to be the prime minister and had the full support of the coalition partners. But she renounced her claim to the position—a decision that took the nation, including her own party colleagues and coalition partners, by surprise.

In the chapter titled "The PM India Never Had", Sharmistha writes that following Sonia's decision to withdraw from the prime ministerial race, there was intense speculation within the media and political spheres.

"The names of Dr Manmohan Singh and Pranab were being discussed as the top contenders for the position. I did not have the chance to meet Baba for a couple of days as he was terribly busy, but I spoke to him over the phone. I asked him excitedly if he was going to become the PM. His response was blunt, 'No, she will not make me the PM. It'll be Manmohan Singh.' He added, 'But she should announce it fast. This uncertainty is not good for the country'."

However, she says that her father did not have any rancour against Sonia Gandhi for not making him the prime minister, and definitely not against the man chosen - Manmohan Singh. If he harboured any disappointment, the author writes, it did not reflect in his diaries. 

He told a journalist that he did not have any expectation from Sonia Gandhi to make him the prime minister, she says.

"It is generally believed that Pranab had a chance to become the PM earlier in 1984 as well, after Indira Gandhi's assassination, and not just in 2004," the book adds. Sharmistha says that people often asked her whether her father actually harboured the ambition to become the prime minister and she posed this question to him during the UPA-I era. 

"His response was emphatic. He said, 'Of course, I would like to be the prime minister. Any politician worth his salt has this ambition. But just because I want it does not necessarily mean I am going to get it," she writes.

Pranab Mukherjee served as India's finance minister and subsequently became minister for External Affairs, Defence, Finance and Commerce. He was India's 13th president (2012 to 2017). He died on August 31, 2020, at the age of 84.

On Rahul Gandhi

One of the early references in his diaries about Rahul Gandhi was on January 29, 2009, in the context of a CWC meeting that had discussions on strategies for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections that year as one of the agendas, the book says. There are also a few references in his diaries of Rahul Gandhi visiting him at his residence. 

"Pranab described him as 'very courteous' and 'full of questions', which he took as a sign of Rahul's desire to learn. But he felt that Rahul was 'yet to mature politically'. Rahul continued to meet Pranab at Rashtrapati Bhavan, though not very frequently. Pranab advised him to join the Cabinet and gain some first-hand experience in governance. Rahul obviously did not heed the advice, as we all know," the author writes. 

"During one of these visits on 25 March 2013, Pranab noted, 'He has interest in diverse range of subjects but moves very quickly from one subject to another. I don't know how much he listened and absorbed'," it adds.

Pranab Mukherjee served as India's finance minister and subsequently became minister for External Affairs, Defence, Finance and Commerce. He was India's 13th president (2012 to 2017). He died on August 31, 2020, at the age of 84.

Sharmistha Mukherjee’s book ‘In Pranab, My Father: A Daughter Remembers’ will be launched on the former president’s birth anniversary on December 11.

(With PTI inputs)