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People’s president Pranab Mukherjee, no more: All about his political life

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Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee passes away at 84.

Pranab Mukherjee, who served as the 13th President of India, said goodbye to the mortal world on Monday (August 31). Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit gave the news on Twitter. Pranab Mukherjee served as President of India from 2012 to 2017. He is survived by two sons and one daughter. He was 84. Remembering her father, daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee in a tweet said, “I bow to all. Baba, taking the liberty to quote from your favourite poet to say your final goodbye to all. You have led a full, meaningful life in the service of the nation, in service of our people. I feel blessed to have been born as your daughter.” 

Pranab Mukherjee’s political career spanned around 5 decades

  • Pranab Mukherjee had a long political career and began his journey with Ajoy Mukherjee’s Bangla Congress.
  • In 1969, he became a member of Rajya Sabha as the representative of the Bangla Congress.
  • Later, he caught Indira Gandhi’s eye. How this happened is a famous story, recounting which seems relevant today.
  • In 1969, Indira Gandhi was on the verge of nationalizing banks and Morarji Desai was removed as Finance Minister, for which one of the reasons was that he was planting the seeds of the syndicate that would go against Indira Gandhi — his vision and ideology was Rightwing and he was against the nationalization of banks.
  • Indira Gandhi understood the importance of state-owned corporations and nationalization of banks and wanted to move ahead with it.
  • It was during that time, one late evening when the Rajya Sabha was nearly empty and Indira Gandhi was present because the Quorum could not be completed that she heard Pranab Mukherjee’s speech in the House.
  • In his speech he noted why it was necessary to nationalize banks, contradicting those who opposed it saying that according to Article 19 of the Constitution, Right to Property was a Fundamental Right and banks being private property, their nationalization would be interpreted as intervening in the rights of the people.
  • Mukherjee mentioned that in London, when (nineteenth century) Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel was discussing the abolition of slavery in Britain, those opposed to it gave an explanation of the same sort — claiming it was a fundamental right and, therefore, could in no way be abolished.
  • Mukherjee said that these opponents of the abolition of slavery ultimately lost and the reason for this was that with time things change, hence a Fundamental Right was also correlative in democracy and it was unjustified to consider it a permanent notion and move towards undemocratic backwardness.
  • India was also going through economic transformation and hence we need to free ourselves from the primitive idea of private property and bring in changes like nationalization of banks, he noted in his speech. In much the same way that, in spite of much opposition by John Locke and John Stuart Mill in the House of Commons, the Bill to continue with slavery was not passed, similarly the privatization of banks could not happen.
  • This explanation of connecting slavery with the nationalization of banks was extraordinary. Listening to it, Indira Gandhi was surprised and impressed at the same time. She asked Om Mehta, then the party’s chief whip, about the young man who had delivered the brilliant speech. Om Mehta found out about Mukherjee and told her about him as also did the veteran Communist leader Bhupesh Gupta, who was close to her.
  • Since then Pranab Mukherjee was under the benign eye of Indira Gandhi and gradually became her favourite. What happened following the merger of the Bangla Congress with the Congress is now history. He became very close to Indira Gandhi. Since then he was omnipresent in the Congress party, be it the era of PV Narasimha Rao or of Manmohan Singh.
  • Although he left the Congress when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, it was a decision that he came to regret, saying it was a grave mistake. He had formed the Rashtriya Samajwadi Party. Later on, even Rajiv Gandhi realised his mistake and in the Tripura Legislative Assembly he involved Pranab Mukherjee and brought him back into the party.
  • Unfortunately, Rajiv Gandhi passed away. it was heard that he had planned on making Mukherjee the Finance Minister. He had made him the chief of the economic cell of AICC.
  • But Mukherjee’s luck did not favour him at the time. After Rajiv Gandhi’s death, Mukherjee became the crisis manager in the tumultuous politics of the time in order to protect Indian democracy.
  • When he joined the government of Manmohan Singh he was not very excited about it. The day Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he was thinking about his role in government because at first there was a discussion regarding giving him the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Later on, that got altered and he was given the Defence Ministry. He understood that somewhere there was a trust deficit with the Gandhi family, which did not end till the last day. He was number two to Indira Gandhi. Howsoever effective he might have been, it was difficult for him to be acquiescent to any other leader. He had worked with many other leaders, like Sitaram Kesri.
  • Mukherjee had incredible distinguishing aspects about himself. Many are aware of him being a foodie. As much as he loved food he used to fast as well. He would fast on various occasions and performed the Chandi Path.
  • While dealing with the BJP’s Hindutva, Pranab Mukherjee’s characteristics were composite in nature and involved unity amongst the diversity in religion including Hindus, Muslims.
  • Mukherjee was never really a confrontationist. He was known as the Chanakya of Indian politics because he was a great negotiator, manipulator and everything which was necessary for politics he had them all.
  • Manmohan Singh and his economic reforms were blamed for the loss. It was said that the hard reforms affected the poor people.
  • Pranab Mukherjee was Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee a midway was proposed, that is economic reforms but with a human face.
  • Rao had faith in Manmohan Singh’s policy and so was the case with Pranab Mukherjee but he suggested a way that would serve the purpose without chaos. This is one of the characteristics of Pranab Mukherjee. He was always the crisis manager, he brought people out of conflict and found a midway.
  • Mukherjee was not born with a golden spoon in his mouth. His father was a freedom fighter, a Congress leader. But he made it. He held the highest constitutional position in India. It is very difficult to find someone like him. With experience, he had enriched himself but not with familial exposure.
  • On July 25, 2012, Pranab Mukherjee stepped into Rashtrapati Bhavan as the thirteenth President. Of all the leaders who have been President, he was the only one who became President with so much experience — as in, he was Foreign Minister twice, Commerce Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, member of the Congress Working Committee, to name some posts he held.
  • Apart from the Prime Ministership, there was hardly any important post that he did not hold.

(With inputs from IANS)

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