Pranab as HM in 2004: Mukherjee proposed, Sonia disposed

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s tryst with unfulfilled dreams appears to be an unending saga throughout his political life.

If he thought he may become Prime Minister in 2012 with the possible elevation of Manmohan Singh as President, eight years before that he wished, to be the Home Minister but Congress President Sonia Gandhi had other ideas.

Mukherjee, who was elected President in 2012 and demitted office three months ago, recalls the stories of these misses between the cup and lips in the third and final volume ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’.

Pranab Cover

He touches upon “prevalent expectation” that he would be the “next choice for Prime Minister” in 2004 after Gandhi famously declines to take over the top post, saying it was possibly based on the fact that he had extensive experience in the government but Singh, who was eventually chosen, was know for his bureaucratic expertise.

This even led to frenzied speculation that he would not join the government under Singh. Mukherjee remembers that he was “reluctant to join” but Gandhi insisted that his presence was vital to the functioning of the government as also a “support to Dr Singh”.

“As it turned out, Dr Singh would talk to me on all important issues and seemed to depend on me. We shared a good working relationship,” he recalls.

He joined the government as Defence Minister but that was not his choice. Gandhi initially wanted him to take over as Finance Minister but Mukherjee was unenthusiastic and told her that he would not take it up due to his “ideological differences on economic policy” with Singh.

“However, I told her that I would prefer Home over External Affairs — I had worked as the chairman of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs for over six years and was conversatn with the ministry — and that I had no experience in Defence,” Mukherjee writes.

“She heard me out, making no commitment, nor indicating a decision other than saying that Defence was a world in itself and the Defence Ministry would offer me maximum autonomyu, taking into account my seniority. It was at the swearing-in that I got to know that I was to be the Minister of Defence,” he says.

He also remembers that Gandhi telling him inn 2007 that she cannot spare him from government and elevate him as country’s President after the Left parties suggest his name. In 2012 also, initially Gandhi had told him so. (

In his second volume ‘Turbulent Years: 1980-1996’, he had recalled how his relationship with Rajiv Gandhi was soured over his reported wish to become ‘Interim Prime Minister’ after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. He had said he did not aspire so but such “false and spiteful” stories created misgivings in Rajiv’s mind. (

 Oct 16, 2017

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