The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’s presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, may be considered a constitutional expert, but he still wishes to “learn the lay of the land” at the Rashtrapati Bhavan before saying anything about what he expects to do as the First Citizen. “I’ll cross that bridge if I get elected; I will have to learn the lay of the land only after I get there,” he told journalists here on Tuesday, responding to questions on what his priorities would be if he becomes the next President.
Taking a break from his whistle-stop tour of the country, meeting those who have signed up to vote for him in the July 19 presidential elections, a beaming Mr. Mukherjee spent an informal hour with journalists here on Tuesday evening. Dressed in his “candidate attire” — a white panjabi (kurta) and dhoti, a blue-checked jacket and white chappals — the UPA’s presidential candidate looked like a man without a care in the world, sitting, holding court with the national media, in a jam-packed air-conditioned tent constructed on the lawns of his official residence at 5, Talkatora Road.
But while there was banter and laughter over sandwiches, kanchagola (a Bengali sweet) and steaming cups of Darjeeling tea, Mr. Mukherjee refrained from commenting on the government of which he has been a part for eight years. His troubleshooting days are in the past, he indicated, stressing that he no longer represented either the government or the Congress. Asked if he felt there was any “unfinished business”, he said, “How can I say what is unfinished? I cannot say that now. You have to say.”
On whether he wished to make a fresh appeal to Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, who has thus far opposed his Presidential bid vigorously, he said, “Whatever I had to say, I have already said.”
Refusing to impart any “hard news”, Mr. Mukherjee instead turned the interaction into a public relations exercise, thanking generations of journalists with whom he has interacted over a four a half decade political career that represented “the most important phase of his life”.
“I candidly admit that I have received much from my interactions [with the media],” he said, adding modestly, “I don’t know what I was able to give back in return. I also candidly admit that I have been rude on occasions. If I’ve hurt anyone, it was not intended.” He also got up midway and walked through the throng of journalists shaking as many hands as he could, accepting good wishes.
Will he cast his vote as a Lok Sabha MP? “I will have to check with legal pundits,” was Mr. Mukherjee’s cautious reply. On the vicious nature of P.A. Sangma’s campaign against him, he was silent. Instead, he said quietly, “Everyone has his own perception. They go according to that.” But he pooh-poohed the idea of a conscience vote floated by his rival, pointing out that legislators have largely voted on party lines even after 1992, the year from when no party gained a majority.
Plans for a memoir
He of course plans to write a book that will be more than his memoirs. Will they be based on the diary he has always kept? No, those he has given his daughter with instructions to publish them after he dies. But those diaries only begin in the early 1990s.The ones that he kept till 1988 were destroyed when water entered the basement of his home in Delhi’s Greater Kailash. Upset, he stopped maintaining a diary till former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao insisted he start keeping one again.