Farewell to Shri Pranab Mukherjee, true friend of Bangladesh, 31 August 2020

When I first met Shri Pranab Mukherjee as an adult, he did not accept me very gladly. Because one of my loved ones had corrupted his mind about me.

Long after the discussion started, he started softening his jaw after 2/3 of my questions/opinions. At one point he left the audience and spent time talking to me. After about 3 times the time allotted to me, as his assistant repeatedly reminded of his next appointment, that discussion came to an end.

RIP Pranab Mukharjee
RIP Pranab Mukharjee

Once an article of mine about classical music was published next to his writing in the festival issue of Arambha magazine. I didn’t even think he would read my writing and remember, where I was the one who forgot. Surprisingly he remembered enough to ask questions!

Here are some interesting anecdotes by him from our interactions:
“Learned people are considered as threat in politics nowadays”
“Value of Principal is gone, rather that is a trade brand with price”
“I’m not a big talker. So I made a paper on the situation in Bangladesh before the war and gave it to Mrs. Gandhi. When I handed it over, I said – “Whatever anyone says, Bangladesh will happen”.”

Chanakya of the present-day politics, the short old Brahmin knew the story of the Arabian Nights about politics. The key to hearing those stories was the footnote that evoked his wisdom.

One thing that came to my mind every time I talked to Mr. Mukherjee is that – He wanted to answer a lot of questions, but the right questions might never be asked.

Pranab Kumar Mukherjee (প্রণব কুমার মুখার্জি; 11 December 1935 – 31 August 2020) was an Indian statesman who served as the 13th president of India from 2012 until 2017. In a political career spanning five decades, Mukherjee was a senior leader in the Indian National Congress and occupied several ministerial portfolios in the Government of India. Prior to his election as President, Mukherjee was Union Finance Minister from 2009 to 2012. He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2019, by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.

Shri Pranab Mukherjee got his break in politics in 1969 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi helped him get elected to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament of India, on a Congress ticket. Following a meteoric rise, he became one of Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenants and a minister in her cabinet in 1973. Mukherjee’s service in a number of ministerial capacities culminated in his first stint as Finance Minister of India in 1982–84. He was also the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1985.

Shri Pranab Mukherjee was sidelined from Congress during the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi. Mukherjee had viewed himself and not the inexperienced Rajiv, as the rightful successor to Indira following her assassination in 1984. Pranab Mukherjee lost out in the ensuing power struggle. He formed his own party, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress, which merged with Congress in 1989 after reaching a consensus with Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, Mukherjee’s political career was revived when Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao appointed him Planning Commission head in 1991 and foreign minister in 1995. Following this, as elder statesman of Congress, Shri Pranab Mukherjee was the principal architect of Sonia Gandhi’s ascent to the party’s presidency in 1998.

When the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power in 2004, Mukherjee won a Lok Sabha (the popularly elected lower house of Parliament) seat for the first time. From then until his resignation in 2012, he held a number of key cabinet portfolios in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government – Defence (2004–06), External Affairs (2006–09), and Finance (2009–12) – apart from heading several Groups of Ministers (GoMs) and being Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha. After securing the UPA’s nomination for the country’s presidency in July 2012, Mukherjee comfortably defeated P. A. Sangma in the race to the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the Indian presidential residence), winning 70 percent of the electoral-college vote.

In 2017, Mukherjee decided not to run for re-election and to retire from politics after leaving the presidency due to “health complications relating to old age.” His term expired on 25 July 2017. He was succeeded as President by Ram Nath Kovind. In June 2018, Mukherjee became the first former President of India to address a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) event.

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