Rajiv Gandhi backed Chandra Shekhar over Pranab Mukherjee as PM: M L Fotedar
New Delhi: Pranab Mukherjee was favoured by late President R Venkataraman to be the Prime Minister after the fall of VP Singh government in 1990 but Rajiv Gandhi thought otherwise.
This has come to light in a book entitled, "The Chinar Leaves", written by veteran Congress leader and close aide of the Gandhi family M L Fotedar, who claims that when he met President Venkataraman to discuss the political situation in the wake of V P Singh's resignation in 1990, the President told him emphatically that Rajiv should support Mukherjee.
"I met President Venkataraman and discussed the political situation with him. I told him that under the present circumstances only the Congress party could take along with it every section of society and provide a strong and stable government.
"I requested him to invite Rajivji to head the next government as he was the leader of the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. On this the President directed me, with an emphasis of authority, that I may put it to Rajiv Gandhi that if he supported Mr Pranab Mukherjee to be Prime Minister, he (the President ) would administer the oath of office to him that same evening," Fotedar says in his book.
The HarperCollins publication, due for release soon, also highlights how Mukherjee along with P V Narasimha Rao and Venkataraman were once considered by Indira Gandhi as those who could take over the Congress party after her until of course she decided to bring her son Rajiv into politics as her political heir.
Fotedar, currently member of the Congress Working Committee, writes that then President Venkatraman's personal choice for the PM's position left him surprised and he took time to recover his poise to ask the President, "Sir, how can that be done?". Hearing this, the President said again with an aura of authority that he should inform Rajiv about his choice.
"He (President Venkataraman), again with that aura of authority, said that I must know that the President had the power to appoint a Prime Minister. He asked me to inform Rajiv Gandhi that he should convey his response to the President directly when he met him later that day. He also expressed caution against choosing Chandra Shekhar and made some adverse remarks about him.
"I came back and reported the developments to Rajivji, who was also astounded by RV's stand. The Congress party was running out of options and Rajivji ultimately took the controversial decision of supporting Chandra Shekhar from outside," Fotedar recalls in his book.
He adds that Chandra Shekhar, the former 'Young Turk' who had waited in the wings to become the country's Prime Minister for nearly a decade, "jumped at the opportunity and took over the reins of power".
The book also highlights how Mukherjee was made the Presidential candidate of the Congress by consensus to avoid a tricky and embarrassing situation for the party amid talks of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's name cropping up with Mamata Banerjee suggesting it.
Fotedar, a former Indira Gandhi aide, further states in the book how Madhavrao Scindia, who nursed prime ministerial ambitions, used Amar Singh to make Mulayam Singh Yadav change his mind about supporting the Congress-led coalition government in 1999 after the fall of the Vajpayee government by one vote.
Talking about Sonia naming Manmohan Singh as the party's prime ministerial candidate after the Vajpayee government fell, Fotedar says, "many within the party got to know that Soniaji's first preference was Dr Singh. This irked some of the ambitious leaders and Madhav Rao Scindia, who had prime ministerial ambitions, used his friend Amar Singh to make Mulayam Singh Yadav change his mind about supporting the Congress-led coalition government."
Fotedar adds, "Soniaji, who was not in electoral politics at that point, met the President and claimed that her party had the support of 272 Lok Sabha members. An interesting incident took place just before her meeting with the President.
"The original letter which Soniaji had sought to present to the President had indicated that Dr Manmohan Singh would be the prime ministerial candidate of the party. However, I advised her to delete Dr Singh's name and instead insist on getting the invite for the party to lead the coalition government. Soniaji appreciated the logic and did the needful."
On Manmohan Singh, the Sikh Congress man picked for PM's post, Fotedar says the choice reflected the "astute political mind" of Sonia Gandhi since Singh had no political base and could never become a threat to her leadership. He also belonged to the Sikh community which had been extremely hostile to the Gandhi family because of Operation Blue Star and subsequently the riots following Indira Gandhi's assassination.
"It was Soniaji's way of extending the olive branch for the sake of the security of her children," he said.
Fotedar has been Indira Gandhi's former political secretary who rose to become a Union minister.