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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Enter the veteran

During one of those candid moments a few years ago,Pranab Mukherjee famously made a remark that might have returned to him today.

Written by Swaraj Thapa | New Delhi | Published: June 16, 2012 3:08:57 am

During one of those candid moments a few years ago,Pranab Mukherjee famously made a remark that might have returned to him today. Asked to reflect on his longstanding career during which he had served in almost all important positions in the government and party,he said in his matter-of-fact style: “Well,yes,I have served in almost all the important ministries at the Centre,except for the posts of president and prime minister.”

Among the vanishing tribe of old-school politicians,Mukherjee is now poised to scale that significant peak. Support from various parties has almost immediately poured in for his candidature,an acknowledgement of the regard leaders cutting across political spectrum have for the quintessential Congress veteran.

Should everything go according to script,Pranabda — as he is popularly referred to — will next month finally move out of his modest 13,Talkatora Road,residence,where he has lived for the past 15 years,to the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan on Raisina Hill.

The house,in fact,is only another measure of Mukherjee’s character. Though he has been entitled to a much larger house,being the virtual No. 2 in the government since the time the UPA came to power in 2004,Mukherjee regularly spurned the offer. “Why do I need a big house? This is enough because we are only two people — me and my wife,besides the books that I love. I have no other interests,” he has often quipped.

The only time he gave the matter some consideration,he confessed once,was when he became external affairs minister and was advised that he would have to entertain foreign dignitaries.

Mukherjee’s elevation as president is expected to stamp out the general suspicion that he was overruled for the prime minister’s post in 2004 because the Congress leadership was wary of placing its full trust in him. In the past eight years,he has held the three key portfolios of finance,external affairs and defence and been part of the Congress core group. However,his larger profile has been because of the virtual dependence of the party and government on his capabilities. He has headed as many as 83 GoMs and EGoMs since 2004 (24 in UPA II),covering almost all ministries.

At the political level too,he has been the man for all seasons,whether it is handling the Telengana issue,negotiating with alliance partners or resolving standoffs with the Opposition.

Cabinet colleagues will also miss his famous “short temper”,the only thing Mukherjee publicly regrets not being able to control. In innumerable Cabinet discussions,the veteran has pulled up even senior ministers for failing to do some homework before attending meetings. Close family members and aides contend that he was not like that earlier and probably the pressure of work coupled with the lack of rest has resulted in the change in his behaviour. Mukherjee is among the few ministers who starts his day early and ends it well past midnight. It is not unusual to see top-most bureaucrats,industrialists and politicians patiently waiting late in the night for an appointment at his residence.

It has been a long haul for Mukherjee,who began his foray into politics in 1969 when he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from the Congress and did five terms in the Upper House before winning from Jangipur to enter the Lok Sabha in 2004. Born at Mirati village in Birbhum district on December 11,1935,to Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee and Rajlakshmi Mukherjee,he still goes to his ancestral home every Durga Puja.

He studied at Suri Vidyasagar College and later got a degree in law from the University of Calcutta,working as a lawyer,teacher and journalist before shifting to politics. He married Suvra Mukherjee on July 13,1957,and has two sons,Abhijit and Indrajit,and a daughter,Sharmistha.

Mukherjee’s first stint as a minister began in the early seventies when he was made deputy minister for industrial development. He then headed various portfolios including shipping,transport and revenue. His first stint as finance minister was in 1982 when the country was still a socialist economy.

Mukherjee was forced to quit the party in the mid-’80s after Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 and he felt slighted by successor Rajiv Gandhi. He formed the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress but could not make much impact,and negotiated a return to the Congressfold in 1989. During the 1990s,his career gathered momentum as he was appointed deputy chairperson of the planning commission and was made foreign minister. In 1997,he was voted Outstanding Parliamentarian.

Observers feel that that given his long and eventful career,Mukherjee’s role in active politics may not decrease even after he enters the Rashtrapati Bhavan. At an informal level,his counsel will always be sought,though Mukherjee will get more time now to pursue his singular passion: reading books.

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