AROUND three weeks before he demits office on July 24, President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday conceded that there had been “divergence of views” between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but asserted that it did not affect the relationship between them as they had kept the differences to themselves. The President and PM also voiced deep admiration for each other, with Modi saying Mukherjee cared for him like a father would for his son.
The occasion was the release of a book, President Pranab Mukherjee — A Statesman, by the PM at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The book is a photo essay brought out by The Statesman group. Mukherjee recalled that his relationship with The Statesman was one of “agree to disagree”, as most of the times they disagreed in their views. At the end of his speech, he noted that for more than three years, he and the PM had acted in close coordination, and “it is not that there cannot be any divergence of views”.
“Surely there has been divergence of views. But we have been able to keep that divergence, if there be any, only to ourselves. It did never find any place anywhere and it did not affect the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister, between the titular head and the actual head of the administration and the Council of Ministers.”
Pointing towards Finance Minister Arun Jailey, who was also present on the occasion, the President said, “Many a time, and the Finance Minister is present here, I do not know how many times, I have given him the trouble of calling him and consulting, why this and why not this. And finally I must say that he convinced me like an effective advocate and I had to concede to his reasoning.”
Mukherjee also said that “the functioning of the government was never disturbed, never stopped, was never delayed, perhaps I can claim with confidence”.
Mukherjee’s remarks on divergence of views with the government come less than a month before he leaves office. In December last year, he had advised the government that ordinances be brought only under extraordinary circumstances. He was unhappy when the enemy property ordinance was issued for the fifth time, but finally gave his nod. In January 2017, Mukherjee had issued a note of caution on the government’s demonetisation decision, saying it could lead to a temporary slowdown in the economy and hurt the poor.
However, by and large Mukherjee’s relations with the Modi government have been good, and both have praised each other a number of times, which was evident again on Sunday. Modi said he was fortunate that he could hold Mukherjee’s hand while trying to settle in Delhi, and that there had not been a single meeting between them in the last three years where the President had not treated him like a son.
“Mere jeevan ka ek bahut bada saubhagya raha ke mujhe Pranab da ki ungli pakad ke Dilli ki zindagi mein apne aapko set karne mein bahut badi suvidha mili (It was my great fortune that I got a chance to get settled in Delhi holding the hand of Pranab da). It was a huge support for me,” the PM said, calling Mukherjee an “inspirational” figure.
“I am saying this from deep within..,” he said, turning emotional. “Koi pita apni santan ki jaise dekh-bhaal karega… ‘Dekho Modiji aadha din to aaram karna hi padega’. ‘Tum itna kyon daud rahe ho’. ‘Tum tabiyat ka sambhalo’. ‘Bhaai jeet or haar to hoti rahti hai, tum apne shareer to dekhoge ki nahin dekhoge (Like a father looking after his son… ‘Look, you must rest for half a day’. ‘Why are you always in a hurry?’. ‘Take care of your health’. ‘Win or loss goes on, one must take care of one’s body’),” Modi recalled Mukherjee as telling him during the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh polls.
It was not part of his responsibilities as the President but the humane person inside him that made Mukherjee care for him, the PM said, adding, “Presidency is much more than protocol.”
Modi said the book would bring out this humane aspect of the President, including that he “laughs like a child”. He said that while newspapers show some aspects of a leader, there are others. “It will also show the self-confidence of our President in front of foreign dignitaries, however big in size they may be,” he said in a lighter vein, praising Mukherjee, a man of short height.
Lauding the idea behind the book, Modi also lamented that as a country, India was not “history-conscious”, and underlined that chronicling events is very important to understand a nation’s history.
The PM also referred to the Emergency, and said that though he was very young at the time, he had got a chance to work closely with many people of different ideologies and learnt from them.
The book, a photographic record of India’s 13th President, covers Mukherjee’s Presidency. The President said he was at first “shy” about such a book but was finally convinced about its relevance.