Former President Pranab Mukherjee has said that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was upset with him over his meeting late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election despite her advice against such an interaction. Revealing this in his book ‘The Coalition Years’, Mukherjee said he had met Thackeray on the advice of Sharad Pawar of the NCP, a part of the Congress-led UPA-II government.
He said that during his campaign visit to Mumbai on July 13, 2012, he had gone to meet Thackeray at his residence after the Shiv Sena leader had extended his party’s support to him despite being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). “I took a decision to meet Thackeray despite Sonia Gandhi’s disapproval because I felt that the man who had broken away from his traditional coalition partner to support my candidature, should not feel humiliated,” Mukherjee said in his book.
The veteran Congressman said he had asked both Gandhi and Pawar, who was instrumental in influencing Thackeray towards him, whether he should meet the Sena leader during his visit to Mumbai. Pawar’s advice was completely different from that of Gandhi as he insisted that Mukherjee should meet Thackeray.
Pawar said Thackeray would consider it a personal insult if Mukherjee did not meet him during his visit to Mumbai. “Sonia Gandhi was not enthusiastic about my meeting Bal Thackeray and advised me to avoid it if possible. Sonia Gandhi’s reservations about Thackeray were based on her own perception of his policies,” he said.
After his return to Delhi, Mukherjee said, Congress leader Girija Vyas had met him and told him that Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to the Congress president, were upset about the meeting with Thackeray. “I returned to Delhi, and the following morning Girija Vyas called on me. She informed me that Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel were upset about my meeting with Thackeray. I understood the cause of their unhappiness but, as I have explained, I did what I believed was right. I had to keep in mind the sensitivity of the advice given by Sharad Pawar — an important ally of the UPA-II,” he said.
The former president said that the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC had already opted out of the UPA and did not extend support to the UPA nominee in the presidential election, and if Pawar became similarly disenchanted, “it wouldn’t augur well for the UPA” which still had tow more years in office. “Without the effective intervention and support of its partners, it would not be possible for it (the UPA) to complete the term. It was already known that Sharad Pawar was unhappy on various issues and the relationship amongst coalition partners was under stress. I did not want to give him further cause for unhappiness,” he said.
Mukherjee also said, “I decided not to raise this issue either with Sonia Gandhi or Ahmed Patel, and left the matter at that stage.” Narrating his meeting with the Maratha strongman, the former president said it was “very cordial”.
“He jokingly told me that it was but natural for the ‘Maratha Tiger’ to support the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’,” Mukherjee said, adding that they also discussed some issues of internal security. “I had known Thackeray as a politician with a sectarian approach, but at the same time, I could not ignore the fact that the man had gone out of the way to support my candidature,” Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee defeated NDA nominee P A Sangma in the 2012 presidential election. His five-year tenure ended earlier this year.