A day after former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee filed his nomination, he spoke to NDTV's Barkha Dutt in an exclusive interview on his presidential bid and much more.
Here is the full transcript:
He began his journey of life in a village called Bhirbhum, and from there it's been an extraordinary journey for Pranab Mukherjee. Today we track Pranab Mukherjee's journey from Bhirbhum to Raisina Hill, because although the election for the post of President is still to happen, most people believe that it is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps there is no other Congress leader, perhaps there is no other political figure who could have evoked such cross party support, making this election, as we said, a forgone conclusion.
Pranabda I remember following your campaign trail in 2009, and you spoke about how you essentially thought of yourself as a village boy; who used to walk to school 4km up, 4km down through the fields. The village boy is now going to be President of India. Did you think that this day would come?Pranab Mukherjee:
That is the contribution of democracy and the beauty of democracy, that today anybody can aspire to reach the highest post through his work and through his efforts. Had there not been democracy, it would not have been possible. What you talk of my childhood it is true that we had to commute schools by walking 5 km going and 5 km coming back, and there was no road. So we had to commute through the fieldsNDTV:
You would do it barefoot? You had no shoes?Pranab Mukherjee:
Because where would you wear the shoes? There was no road. Paddy fields we had to commute through, it was particularly difficult to negotiate it during the rainy season, it was full of water and there was a little stream. Normally this was very innocuous, but during the rains it became virulent. Full of water, little streams; normally there is very little water, and sometimes we used to take the help of the elders to cross the streams, but sometimes when you did not get them, particularly in the morning when you had to reach school in time, then you had to risk crossing that stream alone, having keeping confidence in ourselves. That instills the confidence that I shall have to do my work. That type of approach developed in us.NDTV:
I remember you once said that because many of us thought that you would be President in 2007, and for one reason or another, political reasons, that did not work out, since the government, the party was too dependent on you. And I remember these words you said. You said the post of President is not something you ask, for but something you are sought for. And you were very clear about that. Do you finally feel that this nomination, coming in a sense at the end of your active politics, has come at the right time for you Pranabda?Pranab Mukherjee:
I do feel that it has come at the appropriate time. Personally, I do still believe that this office is to be offered and not to be sought. And definitely I am grateful and deeply appreciative of the gesture of the UPA Chairperson and UPA leaders who first offered this post to me, and thereafter it has been endorsed by other political parties; supporting parties like Samajwadi and BSP, and also parties belonging to Opposition. Parties like JDU and Shiv Sena, CPI(M) and Forward Bloc. I deeply appreciate their gesture and am grateful to them.NDTV:
What is it about Pranab Mukherjee that makes it possible for him to have friends across political parties? LK Advani said the government will stop functioning if Pranab Mukherjee leaves. Yashwant Sinha congratulated you on becoming President before your name was announced by the Congress.Pranab Mukherjee:
I think Yashwant Sinhaji told with little humour while I was replying to some debates or was participating in or he was a part of. Anyway you know, it is not new to me, there are many political leaders in India whose works are appreciated and they are respected by cross sections of the party. I am not the unique one and on this occasion it has happened like that. And here I would like to say it is their graciousness, rather than my competence, that they have just favoured me with that support, and I would like to take it in that way.NDTV:
Were you worried on the day when Mulayam Singh Yadav, who of course supports your candidature now, when he announced with Mamata Banerjee that they wanted Kalam, they even named Dr Manmohan Singh as a possible presidential candidate, because that day the Congress had not officially announced your name. So there was a lot of confusion. When you heard him were you worried or were you disheartened?Pranab Mukherjee:
It is not the question of being worried. I knew that the party would have to take the decision at an appropriate time. It was in the process of consultation. In the process of consultation, if somebody speaks some names, one need not be worried about it, but the position was clarified in no time.NDTV:
When did you get to know officially? All of us thought you were going to be the nominee, we were speculating feverishly, but when did you get to know officially?Pranab Mukherjee:
When Congress President finished her consultation process and after this announcement, she asked me to meet her in the next day morning, and she also called Mr Antony, Chidambaram and others, not together but one by one. And then she decided that my name will be discussed, and UPA, in its next meeting will decide. So next day when the UPA met, I think it was a Thursday, no Friday, when the UPA met, one after another the leaders started speaking and I was also present there, and they congratulated me. And after that announcement Mulayam Singhji, his party announced from Delhi and he had a press conference in Lucknow. Mayawatiji also had a press conference they announced, subsequently the others announced.NDTV:
Now you have reached out to Mamata Banerjee and said she is like your younger sister, but she doesn't seem to have responded very positively. Your relationship with Mamata Banerjee, even when she was Cabinet Minister was quite stormy sometimes, Pranabda?Pranab Mukherjee:
It was not stormy, it was not stormy in the sense, because sometimes she had her own angularity or approach, which I did not agree, but it was not stormy, and secondly she is running a party of her own, and what are her compulsions she understands better than anybody else, Till today, as I understand, she has not yet taken decision. So I have appealed to all political parties, who have not yet taken decision to support me, because now I am the official candidate of the UPA, plus other parties, UPA plus nominee.NDTV:
To that extent Pranabda do you believe that this election is a mere formality?
Election is election to my mind.NDTV:
So speaks the veteran politician who never takes things for granted in politics. Pranab Mukherjee:
One should not.NDTV:
It's a walkover isn't it, the way the numbers are stacked up?
That's alright, but I do not take it that way, because when an election is contested, an election is to be fought.NDTV:
There have been suggestions from certain quarters that, like it happens in the United States of America, there should be a Presidential debate; a live televised debate for the post of President and these elections. Do you think that there's any merit in that, would you be open to that?Pranab Mukherjee:
You know my perception of Indian Presidentship is totally different and constitutionally is very different. American President is an Executive. French President is an Executive President. They are the policy makers, they are the policy implementers; but Indian Constitution does not vest this power in President. Executive business is transacted in the name of the President, but it is transacted by the Cabinet; policies are determined by the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. This type of debate should take place among the Prime Ministerial aspirants during the General Elections, or the leaders of the political parties contesting in the General Election to elect a government, not to elect a President. Indian electoral is Indian people, 750 million voters do not elect a President, they elect a government. American system is bipolar. Indian system is multipolar, as something happens in some parts of the country, completely ignoring the ground, rural provisions. If somebody says debate; on what issue? President is not the policy maker, debates are based on policy, President is to be aided, President exercises his responsibility, being aided and advised by Prime Minister, and the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, what is the scope of that?NDTV:
The multi-party system that you talk about, we live in an age of coalition politics. Many believe that the role of the President, the post of the President will become crucial. Also knowing you one can't imagine you being the figurehead President. We feel that you will be a very active president.
I think that the Indian Constitution does not permit it and please do not forget that we are running coalition governments from 1996. It has been more than 16 -17 years that we have been running coalition governments. In between, 3 presidents have been there. So far the role of the President is concerned, it is well laid out by stalwarts like Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussein, Radhakrishnan and the worthy successors of the 3 last years' Presidents. Therefore I do not think there is any need to deviate from that path, the constitutional role which has been assigned to the President. NDTV:
But the President does send back bills. The President has crucial decisions to take when majorities for example are not clear. We have had precedents of that.
It has happened in the past, not once but several times. It happened in 1979, it happened in 1996, it happened in 1998. So it is nothing.
So you see yourself as a Constitutional role and you feel that if there should be a debate it should be for the post of the Prime Minister or a generally elected post and not for the post of a President?Pranab Mukherjee:
No it is not. I do not think so because President's role is totally different in our system. If the President was the real executive, then that kind of debate would have been helpful. It would not have been simply a bi-party because India has a multi-party system. When that system is not there, why to do it? Why to unnecessarily impose it?NDTV:
Pranabda, the day your name was officially announced, I was interviewing your daughter Sharmistha. I asked her, growing up, how did you feel when your father was described as a crisis manager, the troubleshooter of the government, but yet sometimes called the eternal number two? I asked her, did you feel bad that your father never made it to be a Prime Minister? She said, no. I would rather see him as President than a Prime Minister. I asked her why? She said, now I would as least get to spend some time with him. Otherwise I never manage to meet him. I want to ask you truthfully, do you feel you have got your due from the party, do you feel bad or have a regret that you were overlooked for Prime Minister? Pranab Mukherjee:
No not at all. I believe that the party has given me much more than what I have given to the party. The party has trusted the most important thing, once I have told you in my interaction with you earlier. Why should I regret? The party President has trusted me, has considered me capable of discharging certain responsibilities, by me alone. That is a great trust. Therefore, the party has trusted me and through the party I have been an MP for almost 4 decades and it will be more than 4 decades. I was a Minister for 22 years. Therefore, I don't regret. I am rather quite happy and satisfied that the party has given me enough. Rather I have not done that much as what the party has given me. NDTV:
You also quoted Kamraj in that interview. You joked about your Hindi not being good. Do you really think that your Hindi is not good because you are friends with all kinds of parties and language seems to be no barrier? You were quoting Kamraj saying, no English, no Hindi, no Prime Minister, because Kamraj was supposed to be PM. Kamraj said it about himself and you quoted him. Pranab Mukherjee:
I said that when the post was offered to Kamraj, Kamraj said like that.NDTV:
Pranabda, looking back, you have worked so closely with so many different leaders. You really had been a participant in the making of India's history and also been had an inside view of it. Now, you have in a sense written quite a lot, spoken a lot about your association with Indira Gandhi. And even today in your office among the many portraits is a portrait of Indira Gandhi. You have worked as Finance Minister with her and you know, you have been Finance Minister many times. When you look back at that relationship, what do you carry with you about your working relationship with Indira?
You know she was my mentor. And in that way I can say that the ways she taught me, the ways she trained me. I can give you an example. I think I had given it to somebody, but it is worth repeating that. While replying to a question in Parliament, in Lok Sabha, somebody asked me that will the Government have the proposal of demonitorisation. I said an empathic NO. My response was an empathic no. And once after the question answer was over, after some time when she took me to her room, normally we used to go because there was when she used to ask me to do something. Then I went to her room in Parliament House and what she said was true, while replying in Parliamentary Session don't be over empathic and don't be a confrontationist. Because the way you answered it appeared to me. Sometimes I forget her lessons; then she said that you will have to say, you could have said enough; that yes, there is no such proposal under the consideration of the Government. That would have been adequate, because remember, members may feel hurt, so that is the ways she used to, there are minute things. NDTV:
You once said that you owe everything that you have today to Indira Gandhi. Do you really believe that?Pranab Mukherjee:
She built me up. She gave me the opportunities. I became Finance Minister at the age of 46-47. She allowed me to preside over the Cabinet in her absence, when there were many senior to me. There was Kamlapati Tripathi, there was PV Narasimha Rao, there was Venkatraman. But she said no, no, Pranab Mukherjee is senior in the Central ministry, as a Central Minister you are senior to them. But this speaks so for her love and affection in me. NDTV:
When you remember your first time as a Member of Parliament, your son Abhijeet reminded us that the day you were sworn as a Member of Parliament is the day Neil Armstrong stepped first on to the moon and you wanted to speak on the Legislative Councils in West Bengal. And now you are going to leave Parliament. Pranabda, I think, to make the President's address but you will be on the other side. Is that going to feel strange? Pranab Mukherjee:
That's true because I had been in the Parliament and in one way I was the Member of Parliament who hardly missed the sessions of the Parliament. There was a joke amongst our friends that Pranab goes to Parliament to clean the benches and other things, so that others can come and sit and after everybody leaves then he again cleans the benches and then comes out. Because morning to evening, except in some days, I did not come to the Central Hall or talk to anyone. I used to come, but when the debate is taking place in the House, most of the time I used to spend time in the House only listening to it. And of course after sometime I became a leader, then I used to intervene more often, but debate in Parliament I used to listen to all this. I liked it. NDTV:
And I think that's why you were able to establish so many relations, personal relations with people of other parties, because you participated in Parliament.Pranab Mukherjee:
That may be one of the reasons and it is a great forum which gives you this opportunity
Are you going to miss it?
Only 543 people of India get this opportunity. 245 people get this opportunity in Rajya Sabha. So it's a great honour and great opportunity. NDTV:
Will you miss Parliament you think?
Of course I will be missing Parliament but that I decided earlier.
Pranabda one of the nicknames for you was GOM Mukherjee because of the number of GOM's you were heading. But the Congress party is really worrying, that without you, you're exiting government at a very crucial time for this country. Are you worried?
No, no I don't think so, because Congress party has lot of talent. 125 years old party, it has lot of talent. There is no dearth of talent in the Congress Party. There is no dearth of talent amongst the existing ministers. And
Prime Minister can appoint anybody as minister, or Congress President, whom they feel necessary. So I do not feel in this sense, nothing will remain vacant. There will be worthy persons with better talent.
You are going to be the President if the numbers, they are going to play by the way we think that they will. But if Mamata Banerjee does not support to you Pranabda, then you will be the first President from West Bengal where the West Bengal Chief Minister is not supporting you. That will be a very strange situation don't you think?Pranab Mukherjee:
I don't think so, because let's not presume anything. I have told you already that she has not yet decided, and I have already appealed to her through Media, that as and when she takes the decision, she should extend her support as a partner of UPA to the UPA candidate. NDTV:
You are going to all the states and obviously you are going to Bengal, will you meet Mamata Banerjee?Pranab Mukherjee:
If the occasion demands definitely, but I can't say it right now because the programme is yet to be finalised. NDTV:
Pranabda when you look at your political innings, because you are now stepping into your new avatar, when you look at your political innings as you have played so far, what for you were important watershed political moments. Some moments you can mark like your first speech as a Member of Parliament, your years as Finance Minister, but personally for you as a politician, what were your times of greatest learnings?Pranab Mukherjee:
You know in an activist's life there are many ups and downs. I read it somewhere, but I did not know on what occasion it was said, it was said by a great Chinese leader, Sun Yat Sen. He said a political activist never should indulge in analysing his failure and success, his high points in political career or low points in political career, that is the job of the others. A political activist is always a political activist and I read it somewhere as the observation of Sun Yat Sen to a fellow revolutionary colleague, and I liked it and I have practised it. This is not my job to identify what is watershed and what is not watershed, because I am not a political analyst, I am a political activist. That is the job of the persons like you. NDTV:
But Pranabda there must be some, especially some memorable moments, you know Bangladesh, when Bangladesh was ...Pranab Mukherjee:
When I have been in politics since 1969, I started through the major events, Presidential elections, split in Congress in 1969. '71 Bangladesh War, major economic crisis, high rate of inflation in the '70's. First war crisis, second war crisis, then end of Cold War. Worldwide Liberation. In a contrary period you must have seen in just 3-4 years, 2008 financial crisis, 2011 financial crisis in Eurozone; dismemberment of Soviet system, creation of EU. To me as a student of history, these are the major events. 1970 after the world's evolution, when the mighty Soviet system, where Russia was established and which fought the Second World War with success and defeated the fascist forces that dismembered in the mid 80's. European countries, who fought for almost 200 years, 300 years. Those countries around the Mediterranean; history of Europe was what? History of Europe was fight amongst these countries; France versus Belgium, Austria, two World Wars in the last century. 1914,1939 and therefore what did we see after 1945, that they converged into one entity. Today also the major challenge is that whether Eurozone, as an entity, would survive or not. These are the major developments and many of these things have happened my career as a political activist. NDTV:
Much of what you have seen you have been writing about every night in your diaries. Do you really get time to make a diary entry every night and how long have been keeping this diary, because you have lost your diaries also?
I have already told you about it so I am not repeating it. Now I find difficult to get the time and sometimes when I start writing the diary I feel so much sleepy that I leave it and then next day I try to complete it. But I try to do it as much as possible but not much. only one page, every day one page. NDTV:
But your daughter has been wanting to publish these diariesPranab Mukherjee:
No I told her no, nothing to do like that. But I told her that in reality, you will have to edit it, you will have to work on it and publication after my going from the world. NDTV:
May that not happen for many years Pranabda, but will you keep a diary at Rashtrapati Bhawan also, if you are elected, as we believe that when you are elected?Pranab Mukherjee:
When I am elected. NDTV:
Which we sure you will. But Pranabda, you said that Indira Gandhi has taught you many things and one of the thing she taught you was that you could say the same thing in a non-confrontational way and you said sometimes I forget that even though...Pranab Mukherjee:
Yes, yes, sometimes I forget her lessons. And there is another humorous story that also I told somebody. You know it was my first semester in 1982. I was appointed on 15th of January as the Finance Minister. So after the swearing-in and having tea with the President, she asked me, Pranab would you be in a position to place the Budget on the appointed day? Last working day of February is the fixed day. I said Madam I do not know, I will have to look into the situation after going there and I will let you know. Then I told her that I will try to stick to the date. Then I started with my work, which is a different story, but in between I got a book of Toffler, some of my colleagues gave me that book, it is my third week. It is another book and in that book there was the mention of Mrs Indira Gandhi's visit to New York, just on the eve of Bangladesh War. And you know that her interaction was not very successful, but she met large number of USA intellectuals and she tried to convince them the need international communities' attention for what was happening in the East of Pakistan, now Bangladesh. But Toffler better commented that the guests present were more interested in her charm, in her gaze, in her way of talking, than have the subject of interest on the plight of the people of East Pakistan. So I underlined these few lines and sent it to her. So after one or two days after that she had sent me a small slip and returned the book. She said, I have not read this book earlier. It is very good. But I am surprised that even in the month of January, my Finance Minister has the time to read Toffler, what is going to happen to the Budget? And I really enjoyed that. NDTV:
You, most of the people who know you including Sharmistha, who had said in an interview to us you never lost your temper during most of her adult life. In the last two years you started losing it more often. Were you working too hard in the last 3-4 years, was the stress and the anxiety getting to you? Pranab Mukherjee:
Last 3-4 years were very tough. In any circumstance, there is no justification for losing temper. More than often I regret it. NDTV:
Do you think that maybe because you were a teacher once, that scolding instinct remained in some way? Pranab Mukherjee:
Sometimes, maybe. NDTV:
Let me ask you Pranabda, you had indicated that you did not want to remain in the Government or active politics anymore. You had said this in the last election. You were saying that it was time for rest. If you weren't going to be President, the Congress regarded you as Mr Indispensable, they regarded you as the crisis manager. They felt they couldn't do without you, but you had started saying that if there is a next government, you didn't want to be there. Pranab Mukherjee:
I had said it in the very beginning. What I meant, there was no doubt about that. In 2009, Lok Sabha elections I worked as usual, but after 10-15 days, I felt this strain on me. It was a rural constituency. You have yourself seen it. In the month of May from morning 10 to 10 in the night, except for a break of an hour I used to work and campaign. It was totally summer and I used to feel the strain. Secondly I thought that the next election of 2014 would be when I would be 79. I entered into Parliament at the age of 34. In 1969, I was 34 years old when I entered Parliament. 79 is a good time for me to retire. I do believe that older generation should make room for the new generations. That is the way that the system can get revitalized. It would get new strength and in particular the party to which I belong to, it is the oldest party but has younger leaders. In the last 50 years if you compare the other political party top leaderships and Congress' top leadership you will see the difference.
Pranabda, no rest for you right now because you are beginning a brand new political innings. Many congratulations to you. Thank you for talking to us.