<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Pranab Mukherjee had upset Congress President Sonia Gandhi on July 13, 2012 when he met late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, despite being advised by her against this meeting before his election as President of India in 2012. Shiv Sena, despite being part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had extended support to Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature. This was completely unexpected as Shiv Sena was not even asked for the support. Pranab Mukherjee has revealed this in the third volume of his autobiography “Coalition Years: 1996-2012”. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar had insisted that meeting with Thackeray should happen in Mumbai when Mukherjee visits Mumbai. Shard Pawar was a coalition partner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government. Mukherjee claims that the meeting tried to keep coalition partners like NCP in good humour. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee had already abandoned the UPA and he did not consider it prudent to ignore Sharad Pawar’s suggestion. “I had asked both Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar — who was instrumental, I think, in influencing Thackeray towards me — whether I should meet Thackeray during my visit to Mumbai. I had received several messages from him for an interaction at his residence. Sonia Gandhi was not enthusiastic about my meeting Bal Thackeray and (wanted to) avoid it, if possible. Sonia Gandhi’s reservations about Thackeray were based on her own perception of his policies,” says Mr Mukherjee.Sharad Pawar’s advice was completely different, says Mukherjee. He advised him to meet Thackeray at his residence as his followers were waiting to receive the presidential candidates at his residence and elaborate arrangements were being made for the interaction. “Pawar added that Thackeray would consider it a personal insult if I did not meet him during my visit to Mumbai. I took a decision to meet Thackeray despite Sonia Gandhi’s disapproval because I felt that the man who had broken away from his traditional coalition partner to support my candidature should not feel humiliated. I requested Sharad Pawar to take me to Thackeray’s residence from the airport, and he readily agreed to do so,” Pranab Mukherjee writes.Meeting with Thackeray was very cordial during which the Shiv Sena supremo jokingly said that it was but natural for the Maratha tiger to support the Royal Bengal tiger, reveals the book. “I had known Thackeray as a politician with a sectarian approach, but at the same time I could not ignore the fact that the man had gone out of the way to support my candidature,” the former President says. “The Sena support to his predecessor Pratibha Patil in 2007 could still be explained because she was from Maharashtra,” he further adds. “In my case, it was his deliberate decision to support me — he even told me that he found me distinctly different from other Congress politicians. Whatever be the reason, I thought it was my duty to thank him personally for his support.”But when he returned to Delhi the following morning he was informed that Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, were upset at the developments. “I understood the cause of their unhappiness but, as I have explained, I did what I believed was right. I had to keep in mind the sensitivity of advice of Sharad Pawar — an important ally of UPA-II. Already Mamata Banerjee-led TMC had opted out of UPA and presidential elections. If Sharad Pawar became similarly disenchanted, it wouldn’t augur well for the UPA. The UPA had two more years in office as the ruling coalition; without the effective intervention and support of its partners it would not be possible for it to complete the term,” he says.
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