'No Hindi, no prime ministership': Pranab Mukherjee on why he didn't become PM
New Delhi, Oct 14: Probably, the question as to why Pranab Mukherjee was never made the Prime Minister of the country by Congress president Sonia Gandhi back in 2004 after the party's handsome win in the Lok Sabha elections, instead decided to give the coveted chair to the unlikely man Manmohan Singh, would never fail to elicit various responses in the political circle.
On Friday, during the release of Mukherjee's new book, the third volume of his autobiography, The Coalition Years: 1996-2012, his long-time colleague from the Congress and former PM Singh to everyone's surprise stated that the former President was more qualified to become PM than him.
However, Mukherjee, who was also the country's Union minister on several occasions and one of the country's tallest political personalities, had a different take on the entire matter, which is generally not discussed openly by the members of the grand old party.
The former President said that it was his lack of grasp on Hindi and his long tenure in the Rajya Sabha which "disqualified" him to become the country's PM.
In an exclusive interview to India Today, Mukherjee rejected the idea that he was "disappointed" when Singh was made the PM, instead of him by Gandhi.
"Not disappointed, because I considered myself disqualified from ever being the Prime Minister of India. One disqualification was that, for most part of my career, I was always in the Rajya Sabha. Only in 2004 did I win a seat to the Lok Sabha.
"Second, though I was elected to the Lok Sabha, I did not know Hindi. And without knowing Hindi, nobody should venture to be the PM of India. Kamaraj said that once- 'No Hindi, no prime ministership'," Mukherjee said.
"My honest assessment at the time was that Manmohan was the best choice. Over time, he had understood administrative and political nuances. He had vast administrative experience and was well-versed in economic affairs. He has always been a man of highest integrity. He's widely respected across the world as an economist of repute," he added.
Singh said on Friday that Mukherjee was right to feel upset when Congress president Gandhi sidelined him and named Singh as head of the UPA government in 2004.
"In 2004, Sonia ji chose me to be the Prime Minister. Pranab ji was the most distinguished colleague that I had. He had every reason to feel a grievance, that he was better qualified than I was to be PM but he also knew I had no choice in the matter," Singh said.
Singh added while his entry into politics was "accidental", Mukherjee was a politician by choice and is one of the greatest politicians living in our country.
Singh told the audience at the book launch event that both he and Mukherjee always shared a healthy working relationship.