This edition of the Express Adda, held at The Claridges, New Delhi, hosted former President Pranab Mukherjee. In a discussion moderated by National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and Deputy Editor Seema Chishti, Mukherjee spoke on the need for a strong Opposition, the role of people’s movements in a constitutional democracy and how India is in the safe hands of its people.
On writing his memoirs
When I started writing my memoir, I decided it would not be on my personal life, it would be on my public life. That is why I started the first volume with my entry into Parliament in 1969. I completed the third volume when I left Parliament in 2012 after being elected President. The first volume, from 1969 to 1980, was subtitled The Indira Gandhi Years. The liberation of Bangladesh, the Emergency and its after effect are reflected in the chapters. The second book was titled, The Turbulent Years. It started with two assassinations — of Mrs Gandhi in 1984 and of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. There were also turbulent activities in Punjab and other parts of the country. There had also been frequent changes of government in this period but not as frequently, as it happened in the later years. There was a phrase used in the media — that the rule of a single party majority has come to an end and a coalition era has entered… Technically, you can say that the government now is also a coalition but, behind it, there is the presence of a very strong single party. Without the support of any coalition partners, the BJP alone can run the government on its own strength. I have tried to sum up all this.
On life after Rashtrapati Bhavan
As far as active politics is concerned, activism within the framework of a party, is not possible and is also not desirable. Frankly, I am a bit precedent-minded. You may call it a bureaucratic mindset. I do not find any precedent of any former President actively participated in politics with a party affiliation after his retirement. Somebody cited the example of C Rajagopalachari. He launched the Swatantra Party after he retired but always, in India’s parliamentary history, Rajagopalachari is an exception. He was the Governor General of India, after sometime he became the home minister of India, in the same government which was his government before 1952. After 1952, for sometime, he became the chief minister of Madras. It was undivided Madras Presidency. He was not the president, he was the Governor General.
On the need for a strong Opposition
In a parliamentary democracy there should always be a strong Opposition. The presence of a strong Opposition is an essential ingredient of a successful parliamentary democracy. But unfortunately we didn’t have that. There was an Opposition party when the Indian electorate decided in 1977, when they gave Congress 153, and Janata Party more than 300 plus (seats). But that Opposition was also split into Congress (O) and Congress (I). That is a different story. Again, from 1980 to 1989, for almost 10 years, there was no Opposition party. During Rajiv’s tenure of five years there was no recognised Opposition party. After that, a recognised Opposition has come to exist.
On the role of the Congress in a post-Congress polity
What I understand is that a political party, which has a long history, will also have its ups and downs. Could you imagine in 1984 that a political party which has only two seats in the Lok Sabha, will form the government in less than 20 years? So, for an electoral body to get less number of seats or to have a series of defeats in a small time frame of five years is no judgement on its future. If a political party, if it has its ideological moorings, participants may be very active, may not be active. But their support base remains. Sometimes hidden, sometimes inoperative, but it remains. And at the appropriate situation, it gets activated and the party redraws its strength. Also, it depends on the political situation. I have seen one of the most depressed phases of the Congress, with its first defeat in 1977, and also how it could be re-energised. Of course, there was the charismatic leadership of Indira Gandhi.