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Reminiscing Politics


Ajay K. Mehra

THE TURBULENT YEARS: 1980-1996
By Pranab Mukherjee
Rupa Publications, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 221, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

This is a memoir of a part of the political life, of sixteen years to be precise, of the President of India Pranab Mukherjee. It is clearly not an autobiography, though obviously Mukherjee is the narrator of his story and a commentator of goings-on around him, which he does in a lucid narrative. It follows his earlier publication The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years (2014). It must be stated at the outset, critiquing a political memoir is not an easy task for any reviewer, I would therefore critically look at the events he has described and commented upon. The national politicalscape of sixteen years that he presents is a significant one; interspersed as the period is with the return of Indira Gandhi after her post-emergency defeat, and a return with a thumping majority, air crash death of her younger (favourite) son and the heir apparent Sanjay Gandhi, her assassination even as she was completing her term, the crowning of her elder son Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister, his unprecedented victory soon after ascending power despite the post-assassination antiSikh riots, his losing popularity mid-way through his term and eventually losing the 1989 elections. The period witnessed intense politics, transitioning with five Prime Ministers, the period which signalled an unceasing downslide of the Indian National Congress. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was easy to weather for the Party as its organizational and institutional processes as well as the pool of leadership were still not corroded completely; deeply in mourning Sonia Gandhi was voluntarily out of the fray, Rajiv’s children were still small. However, there were internal contradictions that kept striking at the 1991– 96 return to power that led to a slide since 1996. A quintessential politician and Congressman that Mukherjee is, he sticks to the loyalist script. His nine chapter book begins with the tragic air crash death of Sanjay Gandhi. He does not touch upon the 1974– 77 controversy that followed Sanjay’s Amethi victory in 1980, but begins with pouring sympathy for the grieving mother and details his wile in demolishing the Morarji Desai government and praise for his political astuteness. The following chapter details foreign policy successes on her return to power in organizing the UNIDO conference, NAM and CHOGM meets, as also a stupendous task of organizing successfully the Asian Games in 1982. He also discusses the Indian version of federalism and ‘alleged’ misuse of Article 356. Though he mentions that till 2001 there were 108 instances of ...


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