Congress president Sonia Gandhi may not have been hostile to Pranab Mukherjee but she could not have been completely at ease with the seasoned politician as she would be with the ostensibly apolitical Manmohan Singh. In 2004, she could have named Mukherjee as prime minister when she chose to step aside.She did seem to feel, most probably at the prodding of the inner circle which included genuine well-wishers of the family as well as sycophants, that he will dominate both party and government. The story goes that P.V.Narasimha Rao was expected to be a kowtowing underling when he made prime minister but he did not remain that. Once bitten twice shy. Singh did not have searing political ambitions nor the flair for political cunning. The party and Gandhi felt safe and even comfortable with Singh as prime minister. Mukherjee was aware of the trust gulf between him and her. He is supposed to have clarified the issue once to her.
After having overlooked him for the all important and all powerful office of the prime minister, would she reward him with that of the president. She must have thought hard and must have looked around if there was anyone more deserving. Mukherjee was not the first choice of the Congress or its party president. They went into this act of consultation because they did not have the numbers as a senior Congress leader made it clear, but also it would have been the best way of eliminating him. If the allies had suggested other names, then it would have been easier to tell Mukherjee that he was not being favoured by the others. But once the allies preferred Mukherjee, the Congress had to think hard and so did Gandhi.
It is to the credit of Gandhi that she overcame her reservations and apprehensions and even slight dislike and made the correct political decision of choosing the best man. She has done well by the party and she has proved once again that she can be scrupulously fair. Of course, it is difficult to ignore the fact that she gave the politically sensitive and important office of the prime minister to an apparently apolitical Singh, while she gave an apolitical president's office to deeply and intensely political man, Mukherjee. Ideally, Singh would have made an ideal president, and Mukherjee a prime minister. But Gandhi was right in doing what she did. Mukherjee would not have been as good a prime minister as Singh has turned out to be. He will make a good president. This also preserves and protects Gandhi's and the family's own political turf.
This is the difference between Mamata Banerjee and Sonia Gandhi. Mamata Banerjee let her dislike of Pranab Mukherjee cloud her political judgment. Sonia Gandhi did not allow her dislike and distrust of Mukherjee come in the way when she saw the writing on the political wall. A good politician gets along well with other political leaders who they do not like and who they consider to be rivals. Pranab Mukherjee understands Sonia Gandhi as does she understands him, in equal measure. They have deep respect for each other though they may not be fond of each other.