Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had pipped Pranab Mukherjee in 2004, on Friday said the former President had every reason to feel the grievance that he was better qualified than him for the prime minister's post and the two had no serious differences on any matter during the UPA government.
He also said that contrary to what people may say or write about the UPA government, it was a very smoothly running government and there was no tension in Parliament.
"As Finance Minister we (Singh and Mukherjee) also worked closely. Then came 2004 when Soniaji chose me to be the Prime Minister and Pranabji was the most distinguished colleague that I had. He had every reason to feel the grievance that he was better qualified than I was to become the Prime Minister but he also knew that I had no choice in the matter. And therefore that smoothened our relationship," Singh said with Mukherjee by his side at a function.
The function was organised for the launch of the third volume of Mukherjee's autobiography titled "The Coalition Years-1996-2012". Congress President Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader S. Sudhakar Reddy, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP MP Satish Chandra Mishra and DMK MP Kanimozhi were also present.
Singh said they ran the government as a cohesive team of which Pranab Mukherjee was the most important member.
"I do not recall any matter or serious issue on which we had differences of opinion. I took note of the fact that he was one of the senior most members of our party, was my senior most colleague and together with Sharad Pawarji and Pranab Mukherjeeji, I had the greatest regard and respect.
"I recognise both of them were men of great calibre whose voices need to be heard and whose view needs to be respected. That's why contrary to what people may say or write, the UPA government was a very smoothly running government. There was no tension in our Parliament. I had trust and respect for Pranabji. I turned to him whenever a difficult matter was to be discussed in cabinet. I devised the instrument Group of Ministers and invariably I went to Pranabji to head the GoMs and he came with solutions that the cabinet endorsed. Therefore UPA cabinet worked very smoothly and credit goes to Pranabji. His work was as a parliamentarian, minister and overall, his great contribution will be remembered," the former prime minister said.
He recalled that they had worked together in many capacities since early 1970s. "I recall when he joined the finance ministry as junior minister to C Subramaniam, I had the privilege of serving as Secretary in the ministry. I recall he and me travelling together to Mumbai where Subramaniam was hospitalised."
"Then the budget for 1976 was made in fact in that hospital itself and both of us were friends and from that day onward I developed a close relationship with Pranab Mukherjee which took the shape by going to Reserve Bank of India and he to take the Finance Minister and we successfully presided over India returning prematurely the loan that we had taken from the International Monetary Fund."
He said Pranab Mukherjee is a politician by choice and he is one of the greatest politicians living in our country.
"I became a politician by accident. PV Narasimha Rao invited me to become the Finance Minister. In that capacity I worked closely with Pranab Mukherjee who was then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Minister for Commerce and Minister for External Affairs and that association is there till right now.
"I also recall the contribution that Pranabji made as one of the greatest leading Congressmen and in some ways this is reflected in the earlier chapters of this memoirs and I do believe that he will be recognised as one of the greatest living Congressmen whom the Congress turned to whenever there was a crisis or whenever there was a ticklish matter to whom we relied upon to find a solution," he said.
Yechury said a coalition is inherently unstable but that has never really been the case. In 1996, the instability of the United Front government when the Congress supported from outside at that point of time was not because of coalition problems.
He said there were problems that were other than running the coalition. "I inherently believe that the concept of idea of India is itself a coalition. India itself is a grand coalition. And you cannot have a political monolithic structure with a social pluralistic structure in our society. This cannot gel."
The Congress itself was the biggest coalition. "That is why you had a single party government for the first 30 odd years. Because Congress represented that coalition. There was actually a nuclear turmoil in the UPA. But even after that, the UPA continued to give a stable government for ten years, which itself is a very big achievement."