Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that the former president and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee was better qualified to become the prime minister in 2004, but quickly added that he "had no choice" in the matter.
Speaking at the launch of Mukherjee's new book, 'The Coalition Years: 1996-2012,' in Delhi, Singh said the former president had every reason for grievance at being ignored for prime ministership.
"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 the Prime Minister but he also knew I had no choice in matter
Describing Mukherjee as the "most distinguished living parliamentarian and Congressman", Singh said his elevation as the PM did not impact the relations between them.
"Therefore that smoothened our relationship. We ran the government as a cohesive team of which Pranab Mukherjee was the most important member," Singh added.
Singh also said that he became a politician by accident, while Mukherjee "is a politician by choice".
"I became a politician by accident when PV Narasimha Rao invited me to become Finance Minister...Pranab Mukherjee is a politician by choice and he is one of the greatest politicians living in our country," he said.
Mukherjee wrote in his book that after the 2004 election victory there was intense speculation in the party about who would be the prime minister, but the consensus within the Congress was that the incumbent should be a political leader with experience in party affairs and administration.
"The prevalent expectation was that I would be the next choice for prime minister after Sonia Gandhi declined. This expectation was possibly based on the fact that I had extensive experience in government," he wrote.
Mukherjee also said that when he declined to join the government headed by Manmohan Singh, but Sonia insisted on his being a part of it as he would be "vital to its functioning and also be of support of Singh".
OneIndia News with PTI inputs