Pranab Mukherjee or as we call Pranab da was the President of India from 2012 to 2017. A powerful orator, scholar and a statesman, Mukherjee had been a Congress stalwart before he was elected as India’s 13th President. Prior to this he had held the posts of defence, external affairs, commerce, finance, shipping, industries during the Congress and UPA regimes from time to time. In fact, reportedly he was the Best Finance Minister in World, according to a survey of Euro money magazine in 1984.
The 84-year-old was detected with COVID-19 on Monday when he was tested prior to the surgery to remove a brain clot. Mukherjee himself tweeted about his COVID status and urged people who had come in contact with him in the last one week to isolate and get tested for the virus.
Pranab Mukherjee made his foray into politics in 1969 when he was elected a member of the Rajya Sabha from the Congress Party after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi helped him enter Rajya Sabha on a Congress ticket. (He has since been re-elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1975, 1981, 1993 and 1999.).
It is under the Manmohan Singh era during the UPA I and UPA II rule that Pranab da’s stature within and outside Congress grew as the party’s most dependable crisis manager who has, in his long career, mastered the art of political networking. His art came handy for Congress in the era of coalition politics. He is known to have friends in almost every major political party.
In the mid-80s, the Congressman was forced to quit the party. Following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi came to power. Pranab felt slighted and ignored despite his loyalty towards the party. He quit Congress in protest and formed the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. The outfit couldn’t make much breakthrough and Pranab merged it with Congress in 1989 following a settlement with Rajiv Gandhi.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh once told me that Pranab Mukherjee is like Dhrupad Sangeet, if you don’t understand Dhrupad sangeet or if your ears are not trained to listen to it than it will be difficult for a person to take pleasure in the music. And Pranab Mukherjee, was like Dhrupad sangeet because apparently, he seems as a dreary person as he was far away from what we call now-a-days leading a modern lifestyle.
And I absolutely agree with him as to understand the captivating personality of the former president, one needs to understand him as a person.
Before assuming the office of President in 2012, Mukherjee was often considered the quintessential old-school politician who commanded the respect of all and had friends across the aisle.
I have had the opportunity to meet Pranab Mukherjee in the year 1984. I met him through Amiya Dutta, then president of the District Congress, who joined Pranab Mukherjee’s party. I met him in his apartment in South Avenue, and after that I have travelled with him to quite a number of places in India and abroad.
Let me share a funny incident, once I went to Pranab Mukherjee’s room, I stood there for a while as he was going through some files with much concentration and i didn’t find it necessary to interrupt him. I stood there because he didnt ask me to sit. Then looking up he saw me and said, “Why don’t you sit down? Sit down please!” He then told me, “This reminds me of a story”. He said that once his secretary, who was elder to him, was standing similarly like I was when Pranab da failed to notice him. and when Pranab da asked him, why was he standing the bureaucrat then told him, “I might be senior to you by age but you’re the minister and I am your secretary and according the Constitutional protocol I must abide by it. I will only sit if you ask me to.” Then jokingly sharing the story with me he said ‘You’re no bureaucrat, you’re a journalist then why are you abiding by all these protocols?’ and we both laughed.
I have always mentioned this about Pranab Mukherjee that his individuality is of consensus composition. He was never really a confrontationist. He was known as Chanakya of Indian politics because he was a great negotiator, manipulator and everything that was necessary for politics, he had them all. Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, was conferred on him. Mukherjee was never an ordinary citizen, at least since July 1969 when he entered Parliament at the age of 34.
Today when Pranab Mukherjee finds himself in the middle of a new battle and what is perhaps the last battle of his illustrious life, his memories seems to be coming flooding back.