NEW DELHI: President Pranab Mukherjee has sought to scotch long-standing speculation about his aspiring to become interim Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and termed these stories as “false and spiteful”.
Mukherjee also said he was left “shell-shocked and flabbergasted” at his ouster from the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet.
In the second volume of his memoir, ‘The Turbulent Years: 1980-96’, released on Thursday by vice-president Hamid Ansari, 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.”
In the book published by Rupa Publications, the President said getting dropped from Rajiv’s Cabinet was “not even peripherally” on his mind.
“I had heard no rumours, nor had anyone in the party ever vaguely hinted at it. As it happened, PV Narsimha Rao, too, was on tenterhooks, calling me several times to check if I had received a call.
“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,” Mukherjee, who later wrote to Urban development ministry to allot him a smaller house instead of ministerial allocation, said.
Talking about circumstances that led to his ouster from Rajiv’s Cabinet and then from the party, the President admitted to “have sensed Rajiv’s growing unhappiness and the hostility of those around him and taken pre-emptive action”.
“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.
After his expulsion in April 1986, Mukherjee had formed Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC). He later returned to the party in 1988.
Talking about the ‘Operation Blue Star’ in 1984 to flush out terrorists from Golden Temple in Amritsar, Mukherjee recalled that Indira Gandhi “understood the situation well and was clear that there was no other option. Aware that her own life was at risk, she took a conscious decision to go ahead in the best interest of the nation”.
The President wrote that it is easy to say that the military action could have been avoided. However, nobody really knows if any other option would have worked.
“Such decisions are always taken based on the conditions prevailing at that time. The situation in Punjab was abnormal. Urgent action was needed to put an end to the indiscriminate killings, the misuse of religious sites for terrorist activities and all efforts to break up the Indian union.
While the Punjab situation was an aberration and a crisis of this nature is unlikely to recur, the lesson for future generations is that fissiparous tendencies have to be resisted at any cost. The Punjab crisis provided external elements an opportunity to take advantage of the disunity within India and sow the seeds of anarchy, Mukherjee said.
“Its wounds took a long time to heal and, even today, residual incidents do occur from time to time,” he said.