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Man for All Seasons – Pranab Mukherjee

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After Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, it was her son Rajiv who became the Prime Minister. Pranab Mukherjee who was far more experienced was overlooked for the top job.

He eventually lost his Cabinet position and was sent to manage the regional West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. Within two years, Pranav da or Pranav babu as he was fondly called was sidelined from the mainstream which led him to call it quits. The Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress, the party he founded subsequently, didn’t do well and was eventually merged with INC. 

The question naturally arises, would it have been a different India if Pranab babu was made the PM in 1984, instead of Rajiv?

 In hindsight, the years 1984 – 89 were wasted when India could have moved forward by leaps and bounds, given the public support that Congress had back then and the overwhelming majority in Parliament. Policy paralysis remained a malaise and dogged the government in the later decades too, particularly during 2009 – 14.

A legendary politician, not a crowd puller

Pranab Mukherjee was an extraordinarily brilliant man and his knowledge on parliamentary affairs and allied matters are now legendary. He was blessed with an elephantine memory and he could quote specific sections of complex acts that left others in his company bedazzled. But, “he isn’t a crowd-puller,” has been the all too familiar refrain that he had to contend with.

Pranab Mukherjee was the only Finance Minister to have presented seven budgets. His first skimp as the Finance Minister of India in 1982 during the Indira Gandhi government was remarkable for the work he did to improve the finances of the government and for successfully returning the last instalment of India’s first IMF loan.

In 2019, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour and that too when BJP was in power. One may well argue that what has that got to do with the Bharat Ratna award – separate, independent, highly accountable council, et al – but we are all aware of this government’s “influence” on every institution worth its name in this country of ours. Granted, he was no more an active Congressithen but his deep-rooted commitment to India’s oldest national party remained just as strongtill the very end. He had a great ability to straddle the corridors of power and work with people who were his political adversaries. Arguably, that’s why he earned such respect from different quarters.

Political marathon

Once more he had his chance coming for the top job in 2004 when Congress was back in power, but it was Dr Manmohan Singh who wore the mantle finally. Right throughout his political career, the duo shared a cordial relationship and had great mutual respect.

In 2012, UPA – 2 was fighting corruption charges leveled by an acrimonious opposition and was embroiled in several court cases. The negative perception that the public had formed, stuck firmly, which the BJP leveraged to their great advantage.

Once again in hindsight, the question remains unanswered – should Dr Singh have stepped down in 2012 and handed over the reins to Pranab Mukherjee for the interim period?

The political grey!

And, in that case, would it have impacted the General Elections of 2014 when the BJP gained sweeping powers and decimated the opposition? Perhaps, that may be a stretch, given that Narendra Modi is a crowd puller par excellence and has shown how India can be run without the illustrious Gandhis or the Congress party. They represent a different version of what India can be but the jury is still out if that’s the “right” alternative. If votes are all that matters in politics then right now they are in an unbeatable position despite failures on many fronts and not least in the economic one.

 As much respected and astute statesman of Congress Party, Mukherjee was the principal architect of Sonia Gandhi’s ascent to the party’s presidency in 1998.

Since SUBURB is not a political magazine and hence we not discussing about BJP vs Congress or who is right. Here not denying that politics is interwoven in lifestyle and being democratic every votes counts. In politics, there are not just two sides, neither it is a black & white reel, there are shades of greys which people decipher according to their current ideology which is not static. During the recent times we have seen senior (consider integral) party leaders shifting their loyalities looking for greener pastures. So better to say there are only waves – some linger on for a little while longer.

At some point, Pranab Mukherjee may have resigned to his fate. Despite having the brightest credentials, the Prime Ministerial position would always elude him. So he refocused his personal goals and worked hard to influence the powers-that-be in Congress to nominate him as the Presidential candidate. He was sworn-in by the Chief Justice of India on 25 July 2012, becoming the first Bengali to hold the post of President of India.

As an author

He had written more than nine books and few of them are Midterm Poll, Off the Track (1987), The saga of Struggle and Sacrifice (1992), Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation (2011), The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years (2014), The Turbulent Years, The Coalition Years amongst others.

He left for his heavenly abode on 31st August 2020 and leaves behind a legacy that is impossible to do justice to other than in a book. We are in times when it’s said that the best brains aren’t in politics. Pranab Mukherjee’s life is a gentle reminder that some of India’s most erudite sons have also been very astute politicians.

The baton has been exchanged and it’s for the next generation to keep his legacy alive. Or even to take a mighty call – if his brand of politics is redundant?

Vineeta Jerath Grover & Soumitra Das Gupta

About the authorsVineeta Jerath Grover is the Co-founder-Editor of SUBURB Magazine. She writes on a wide spectrum of topics and is passionate about social issues. She is also a US certified NLP practitioner & a Reiki Channel.
Soumitra Das Gupta lives in Gurugram. Besides reading, he is also stimulated by observing quirky human behavior to create stories around them. A flâneur of sorts, he loves to scout for ideas.

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