APJ Abdul Kalam was ready to swear Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister after the 2004 polls when he was the President despite pressure from various political leaders before Manmohan Singh was nominated to head the UPA government.
Kalam’s stand on the political situation after the Lok Sabha elections lifted the veil on an episode that has been intensely speculated upon that he was reluctant to appoint the Italian-born Gandhi as the country’s PM.
In a forthright account of his five-year tenure as President in a book titled ” Turning Points”, Kalam recalls that had Gandhi staked a claim herself he would have appointed her as it was the only “constitutionally tenable” option available to him.
The former President says he was almost certain that Gandhi would head the UPA government but Rashtrapati Bhavan had to rework the appointment letter after the Congress chief nominated Singh as the Prime Minister.
“During this time there were many political leaders who came to meet me to request me not to succumb to any pressure and appoint Mrs Gandhi as the Prime Minister, a request that would not have been constitutionally tenable. If she had made any claim for herself, I would have had no option but to appoint her,” the book says.
In his book, Kalam writes that after the Lok Sabha poll results were announced, no party or coalition came forward to form the government for three days.
During his tenure, he says he had to take many tough decisions.
“I had applied my mind totally in an unbiased manner after eliciting opinions from legal and constitutional experts. The primary aim of all the decisions was to protect and nurture the sanctity and robustness of our Constitution.”
Describing the 2004 elections as an interesting event, he writes, “It was a cause of concern for me and I asked my secretaries and rushed a letter to the leader of the largest party – in this case the Congress – to come forward and stake the claim for forming the government.
“I was told that Sonia Gandhi was meeting me at 12.15 in the afternoon of 18 May. She came in time but instead of coming alone she came with Dr Manmohan Singh and had a discussion with me. She said that she had the requisite numbers but she did not bring the letter of support signed by party functionaries.
“She would come with the letters of support on the 19th, she said. I asked her why do you postpone. We can even finish it this afternoon. She went away. Later I received a message that she would meet me in the evening, at 8.15pm”
While this communication was in progress, Kalam received a number of emails and letters from individuals, organizations and parties that he should not allow Gandhi to become the prime minister.
And on May 19 at the allotted time, 8.15pm, Gandhi came to Rashtrapati Bhavan along with Singh.
“In this meeting after exchanging pleasantries, she showed me the letters of support from various parties. Thereupon, I said that is welcome. The Rashtrapati Bhavan is ready for the swearing-in ceremony at the time of your choice. That is when she told me that she would like to nominate Dr Manmohan Singh, who was the architect of economic reforms in 1991 and a trusted lieutenant of the Congress party with an impeccable image, as the Prime Minister.
“This was definitely a surprise to me and the Rashtrapati Bhavan secretariat had to rework the letter appointing Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister and inviting him to form the government at the earliest,” Kalam writes in the book published by HarperCollins India and scheduled to be released next week.
After the swearing-in ceremony on May 22 involving Singh and 67 ministers, Kalam “breathed a sigh of relief that this important task had finally been done”.