Senior Congress leader and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's declaration that he was no longer keen to be a part of any government after his tenure with the present regime comes to an end can be viewed in several ways.
Mukherjee is both an astute politician and a highly experienced leader. He has worked with four prime ministers and did his political apprenticeship under Indira Gandhi. Therefore, any statement of this nature by him cannot be without a reason and its timing also cannot be without a properly considered view.
Mukherjee has a proven record of being a trusted and accomplished trouble-shooter. The most accurate way of describing him would be that he is the bridge between the party and the government. Many may say that this is also an apt description for Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to the Congress chief but this is not so. Patel is at best the bridge within the party and sometimes coordinates with other parties on crucial issues.
But the real link is Mukherjee who understands the working of the party and the government better than any of his contemporaries. His interventions are respected by all and when he speaks his messages can be both subtle and direct. It is significant that he heads the largest number of group of ministers and is the core of the core committee of the party. Any suggestion by him cannot be ignored and Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi rely on him on various matters.
Therefore, the declaration in an interview hinting at retirement should be seen as a notice to the party and the government that this bridge needs to be strengthened in the interests of all concerned. Mukherjee knows that it may not be possible for him to become the PM.
Though he is considered the de-facto PM during times of crisis, he has reached a plateau beyond which it may not be easy to go. He has also declared that one day Rahul Gandhi could be the PM given that he is a popular leader of the largest party. But he may not like to be part of that Cabinet.
Mukherjee has thus positioned himself in such a manner that he expects his colleagues in the party and the government to appreciate his point of view. It is his way of conveying a strong message that he could be interested if he is considered for the post of the President which is likely to fall vacant in 2012. After all, no one from Bengal has occupied the office and Mukherjee would be a distinguished head of state.
This declaration which shows intent to some degree is also to pre-empt any move of elevating the PM to the august office so that if circumstances permit, Rahul could take over. It is not that Mukherjee is averse to Rahul's takeover but may think that he is a better bet for the President's position since prime ministership was denied to him.
Mukherjee is a grandmaster in the game of politics. He can checkmate many of his adversaries with ease since he has the experience and the understanding to do so. He was always prime minister material.
He is the kind of person who does not rely on aides and sycophants to arrive at conclusions. He uses his own judgment but respects the views of his colleagues and opponents. He is in the Indira Gandhi mould though he may not have her charisma or mass base. He has the tallest stature in the current Parliament if one goes by his immense knowledge of how our system functions.
He has mastered the art of the possible. He also seems reconciled to how destiny has treated him but will not give up without a final effort. If destiny checkmated him for the post of prime minister, he has his strategy clearly worked out for his next move.
Will Mukherjee be our next President?
A question which can only be answered at the appropriate time. Between us.