NEW DELHI: Recently, Pranab Mukherjee released his memoir called The Turbulent Years: 1980-1996 in which he made a lot of interesting revelations. He reminisces about crucial events of his political life including Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Babri Masjid demolition, operation Blue Star and his ouster from Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet was released on Thursday by Vice President Hamid Ansari. Senior BJP leader L K Advani, former CAG Vinod Rai, former Union Minister Karan Singh were among those present at the function held at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Here are some interesting revelations from the book:
When he was kicked out the cabinet and Congress
Mukherjee has termed his exit from the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet and Congress party as a “fiasco” which he himself had created. “I have candidly recognised in the book that I should have not ventured this because I was never a mass leader and I did not have the type of following which rebels from Congress like Ajay Mukherjee in 1960s or recently Mamata and in one sense Indira ji herself had,” the President said. ‘As soon as it (swearing-in) concluded, I wrote to the Ministry of Urban Development asking to be allotted a smaller house in place of my 2 Jantar Mantar residence (which was a ministerial allocation), pointing out that I had ceased to be a minister ‘this was something I had done in 1977, too,’ he shares in his autobiography, which was unveiled at the Rashtrapati Bhawan here on Thursday.
‘The only time I met Rajiv between 1985 and 1988 was when I went to invite him for my daughter’s wedding. He did not come, but sent a cordial letter ‘my absence from the Cabinet resulted in a change in attitude towards me, even within the party,’ says President Mukherjee. He recalls, ‘In March 1985, Rajiv appointed me President of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Community, which I saw as an opportunity and focused on the immediate task of contesting the elections to the Calcutta Corporation, which were being held after a long time, but the candidates’ selection process was rife with factionalism.’
‘When I learnt of my ouster from the Cabinet, I was shell-shocked and flabbergasted. I could not believe it. But I composed myself, and sat alongside my wife as she watched the swearing in ceremony on television,’ he writes. Accusing senior Congress leader Ashoke Sen, who was a sitting MP from Calcutta and made a Cabinet Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, of ‘launching a bitter campaign’ against him, President Mukherjee alleged that Sen accused him of supporting a group led by Subrata Mukherjee (now a member of Trinamool Congress and a senior minister in West Bengal). ‘But this allegation is not correct. In the process of selecting candidates I had consulted Ashoke Sen and all important leaders, including Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Somen Mitra, Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja. The intra-part squabbles saddened me but did not affect my work,’ he shares.
‘In the Lok Sabha elections, held soon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, the Congress had done well, therefore, it was expected that the Congress would secure a majority in the Corporation elections, he says, however, when the results were declared the Congress lagged behind the CPI(M) by one seat.
‘My opponents, however, saw the Corporation defeat as an opportunity, and started demanding my resignation. Sen publically called for a change of command in the state Congress. Taking moral responsibility for the defeat, I declared that I would tender my resignation from the presidency of the PCC. I was asked by the Congress president to continue till a new president was appointed,’ he writes. President Mukherjee recalls, ‘In September 1985, Rajiv Gandhi expanded and reshuffled his Cabinet. Ghani Khan Choudhury, who had been dropped from the Cabinet along with me on December 31, 1984, was brought back as Minister for Programme Implementation. But I was not rehabilitated and, instead, was replaced by Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi as president of West Bengal PCC.’
“To the question of why he dropped me from the Cabinet and expelled me from the party, all I can say is that he made mistakes and so did I. He let others influence him and listened to their calumnies against me. I let my frustration overtake my patience,” he said.
The President was forced to leave Congress in April 1986 after which he formed Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress
Blaming VP Singh for Bofors
It said it was VP’s job to ensure that the purchase of the Bofors guns took place according to rules and regulations. ‘He could not simply say that he was not kept informed. Hardly anything can move in the government without a Finance Minister being in the loop,’ he said. ‘The Bofors controversy happened at a time when I was not part of the Congress, and hence, I have little insider knowledge about it, however, I am, willing to state on record that as V.P. Singh’s predecessor in the Finance Ministry, it is impossible for me to believe his claims regarding the issue and the actions he went on to take,’ says the President.
‘If V.P. Singh had found something wrong with the Bofors proposal, he could have brought it to the notice of the Prime Minister immediately, and if the Prime Minister refused to listen to him, he could have taken action on his own,’ he said, adding that the Bofors issue proved to be one of the causes of his (Rajiv Gandhi) undoing in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, though no charge has been substantiated against him till date.
His interim Prime Ministerial ambitions
Mukherjee says “Many stories have been circulated that I aspired to be the interim Prime Minister, that I had staked claim and had to be persuaded otherwise. “And that this created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind. These stories are completely false and spiteful. Time was ticking away and I was very keen to talk to him. I went near the couple (Rajiv and Sonia) and gently touched Rajiv on the back of his shoulder to indicate that I had some very urgent work with him. He released himself from Sonia’s arms and turned around to talk to me.
“Knowing that I would not have disturbed him unless the matter was very urgent and confidential, he quickly led me to the bathroom attached to the room so that we could talk without being noticed by anyone else who may enter the room,” Mukherjee said.
The two had a discussion on the political situation then and views of partymen about appointing Rajiv as the Prime Minister, which he had agreed to become. Later, “I came out of the bathroom and conveyed Rajiv’s decision to everyone”.
On Rajiv’s mistakes
“The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on February 1, 1986 was perhaps another error of judgement. People felt it could have been avoided,” he said. In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi ordered the locks on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya removed. Until then, a priest had been permitted to perform puja once a year for the idols installed there in 1949. Now, all Hindus were given access to what they consider the birthplace of Rama. Asserting that it is true that no one is perfect, President Pranab Mukherjee has in the second volume of his autobiography The Turbulent Years: 1980-1996 stated that former prime minister Rajiv Gandh’s?s actions on the Shah Bano judgement and the Muslim women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill drew criticism and eroded his modern image.
The Supreme Court had on April 23, 1985 passed a historic judgment in the Mohammed Ahmed Khan v/s Shah Bano case, under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1973 that the destitute divorced wife is entitled for maintenance after divorce would be applicable to Indian Muslim.
The Rajiv Gandhi government enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which set aside the Shah Bano verdict. The events that took place actually shook the faith in how people have manipulated Islam, the need for Uniform Civil Code, and how Congress used religion as a tool to get votes.