At the launch of the third volume of former president Pranab Mukherjee’s autobiography on Friday evening here, leaders of political parties that had constituted the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 1 government at the Centre in 2004, or supported it from outside, reminisced about the past. But there were also those who flagged the need to come together yet again to face the next Lok Sabha election unitedly at a time when democracy in India and the Constitution were under threat. ‘The Coalition Years 1996 – 2012’, was unveiled on Friday. At the launch, Mukherjee, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury recalled the UPA years. As Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party Vice President Rahul Gandhi sat among the audience in the auditorium of New Delhi's Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said that the past could provide a template for the future with the next Lok Sabha polls not far away. Yadav said a book on coalition politics by a veteran of Indian politics like Mukherjee was akin to younger politicians like himself getting hold of exam notes with the examination round the corner. “Elections beckon. The book will have lessons for us…If then some of you (the leaders on the dais) had the opportunity to discuss (coalition building) with ‘Netaji’ (his father Mulayam Singh Yadav), now it is my turn,” the former UP chief minister said. As Yadav sat down after delivering his brief speech, he was heartily congratulated by both the former president and former prime minister ormer President Pranab Mukherjee with former prime minister Manmohan Singh, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav at the release of his book "The Coalition Years" at a function in New Delhi (Photo: PTI) Communist Party of India (CPI) chief S Sudhakar Reddy underlined the need to take lessons from the past with Indian democracy and the Constitution under threat. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Rajya Sabha member MK Kanimozhi said that today rights of the states are threatened and being taken away. Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Chandra Mishra who was one of the chief guests didn’t turn up. Mukherjee spoke about his long years in politics. The former president said that since the book was about coalition years, he accepted the suggestion of his publisher to invite those leaders whose parties were either part of the UPA or had supported it from outside. But the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on any since no Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had been invited as chief guests, or were part of the audience. Former prime minister Singh described Mukherjee as the greatest living politician and parliamentarian of India.
Singh also described Mukherjee as “the greatest living Congressman”. Possibly hinting at the role Mukherjee might still play behind the scenes in Indian politics, Singh said the Congress party always turned to Mukherjee to resolve crises.Singh recalled his long association with Mukherjee, dating back to the 1970s. Singh said Mukherjee is a politician by choice, while he became a politician by accident when PV Narasimha Rao invited him to be the finance minister. On Sonia Gandhi having chosen him to be the prime minister in 2004 and Mukherjee, despite his more distinguished record, losing out, Singh said: “He (Mukherjee) had every reason to feel a 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.” Singh said Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar were the pillars of the UPA government, and he frequently turned to them for advice. Yechury, hinting at how in 2004 the Left and the Congress had an electoral understanding, reminded how Mukherjee had sought his advice whether he should contest the Lok Sabha elections. Yechury said he had advised Mukherjee to contest only if he were confident of winning. The CPI (M) chief said Pranab da has the memory of an elephant, with Sonia Gandhi suggesting from where she sat among the audience that Mukherjee has the memory of two elephants, not one. Mukherjee said he has always believed the Congress party is a coalition as it brings on one platform various ideas and personalities and groups of interests. “Therefore, to provide the leadership of a coalition by the Congress is difficult as it has to manage one coalition within and another coalition outside,” he said, adding it was, nonetheless, done and for 10 years very successfully under Manmohan Singh. With ‘13’ being Mukherjee’s lucky number, the book was launched on October 13. The publisher said the original print order is of 13,000 copies. Mukherjee’s bungalow, before he moved to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in July 2012, was at 13, Talkatora Road, while his office at Parliament House was also at room number 13. Mukherjee was the 13th President of India. Sonia hints Rahul would soon be Congress chief Later at the end of the function, the Congress President confirmed to reporters that Rahul Gandhi would indeed by elected her successor to lead the party. “You have been asking this for so many years and it’s now happening,” Sonia Gandhi told reporters as Rahul Gandhi walked by her side. The Congress Vice President didn’t comment on the issue. According to Congress sources, Rahul Gandhi could be elected the party chief after Diwali.