In the summer of 2012, when Pranab Mukherjee became the 13th President of India after having spent several decades in politics, there was great speculation about how he would approach his new, bipartisan role after having been associated with a political party for so many years of his life. By the time he had served his term, Mukherjee had won the respect and admiration of people from across the political spectrum, including those who were his rivals when he was a political figure.
It is this rare glimpse of President Pranab Mukherjee at his best that is all set to be revealed in his presidential memoirs, scheduled for a global release in January 2021. Titled The Presidential Years, it reveals, in his own words, his fascinating journey that brought him from the flicker of a lamp in a remote village in Bengal to the chandeliers of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
This is a deeply personal accounr of the manner in which one of the country’s most respected, veteran policicians reshaped the functioning of Rashtrapati Bhavan and responded to tumultuous events as the country’s first citizen, leaving behind a legacy that will be hard to match. In this first-person account, Pranab da, as he is affectionately called, recollects the challenges he faced in his years as President- the difficult decisions he had to make and the tightrope walk he had to undertake to ensure that both constitutional propriety and his opinion were taken into consideration.
Kapish G. Mehra, Managing Director, Rupa Publications India said, “It is undoubtedly a grear honour for Rupa Publications India to publish The Presidential Years for readers worldwide. A towering figure of Indian politics, Pranab Da would always insist that he would ‘melt into the masses without leaving a rack behind.’ Today, he leaves behind an unmatched legacy, some of which is reflected in the highly anticipated fourth volume of his memoirs. If he were still alive, he would have been thrilled to note the widespread excitement among readers to read this extremely well-written autobiography. It’s so personal in tone that to me it almost seems like the former President is sitting in his study with a cup of tea (and shingara) and narraring his story.”
We are privy to his thoughts on his relationship with the two prime ministers he worked with, who belonged to two parties and who were (and are) fiercely opposed to each other. He says: ‘I believe that the moral majority to govern vests with the PM. The overall state of the nation is reflective of the functioning of the PM and his administration. While Dr. Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature and the judiciary. Only time will tell if there is a better understanding on such matters in the second term of this government.’
He is also frank about the reasons for the dismal showing of the Congress in the 2014 general elections. He admits candidly, ‘Some members of the Congress have theorized that, had I become the PM in 2004, the party might have averted the 2014 Lok Sabha drubbing. Though I don’t subscribe to this view, l do believe that the party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as president. While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs.’
Reflecting on the presidency, he brings the reader closer to the inner workings of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He reveals for the first time the minor diplomatic issue that arose during the visit of the US President Barack Obama in 20I5 when the US Secret Service insisted that their president travel in a specially armoured vehicle that had been brought along from the US, and not in the car designated for use by the Indian head of state. ‘They wanted me to travel in the same armoured car along with Obama. I politely but firmly refused to do so, and requested the MEA to inform the US authorities that when the US president travels with the Indian president in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements. It cannot be the other way around,’ he says in a no-holds-barred account.
Filled with rare photos and handwritten notes, this is a story of one of the most important and admired politicians of contemporary India.