November 6, 2021 2:26:50 am
Subrata Mukherjee, who breathed his last on Thursday evening after a prolonged illness, will go down in history as a man for all seasons who sailed through the West Bengal’s politics both as a deft politician and an able administrator for more than 50 years.
Mukherjee, 75, held the panchayat and rural development portfolios in the Trinamool Congress government of Chief Minister Mamata.
A stalwart in Bengal politics, his political career spanned more than five decades, beginning in the tumultuous 1960s as a student leader. Born in 1946 in South 24 Parganas district, Mukherjee – the eldest of five siblings – was baptised in politics as a student leader at Bangabasi College in 1967 when he joined Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the Congress. During this period he came in contact with Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.
Mukherjee, through his organisational and oratory skills, quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the most popular leaders of the Congress, along with Dasmunsi and former state Congress president Somen Mitra.
Dasmunsi and Mitra died in 2017 and 2020 respectively.
Mukherjee’s organisational skills were noticed by Dasmunsi, who took him under his wings. The pair crisscrossed the length and breadth of West Bengal, fighting the two-front ideological and political battle with the Naxalites and the Left.
His oratory and organisational skills had also earned him the praise of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Mukherjee’s first brush with electoral politics came in 1971 when he became the youngest MLA in the West Bengal Assembly from the Ballygunge seat at the age of 25. His political career reached a new high when in 1972, he became the youngest minister in the Siddhartha Shankar Ray cabinet after the Congress returned to power with a massive mandate. He was made the minister of state for information and culture.
He was often criticised for suppressing the press during the Emergency period from 1975-77.
Although he lost the elections in 1977, it failed to stop his rapid growth in the party, and he was back in the Assembly after the 1982 polls from the Jorabagan seat. He remained a member of the Assembly till the last day of his life, from the Ballygunge seat.
According to senior politicians, Mukherjee was the political mentor of Mamata Banerjee during her initial years in Chhatra Parishad in the late 1970s and early 1960s.
Mukherjee had even proposed Banerjee’s name as the Congress candidate against then CPI(M) stalwart Somnath Chatterjee from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat in 1984 parliamentary polls. Banerjee went on to defeat Chatterjee to emerge as a giant killer in state politics.
One of the most colourful politicians in the state, Mukherjee was also known for his sense of humour and as someone who was at ease when it came to shifting camps.
In 1999, Mukherjee joined Mamata Banerjee’s newly formed Trinamool Congress (TMC), although he remained an MLA of the Congress from the Chowranghee seat.
A year later, he became the mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation and was credited with changing the city’s landscape. His acumen as an able administrator was widely praised during his tenure as the mayor from 2000 to 2005.
But in 2005, due to differences with Mamata Banerjee, he left the TMC and formed an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party. Mukherjee’s desertion dealt a heavy blow to the TMC, leading to its defeat in the 2005 KMC election.
Furious over his betrayal, Banerjee had nicknamed him “tormuj” (watermelon), describing him as someone who was a Congress activist in public but was hand in glove with the CPI(M).
Though one of the Left Front regime’s fiercest critics, Mukherjee was known for maintaining close ties with CPI(M) leaders, including the then chief minister Jyoti Basu.
He later went back to the Congress in 2005 only to quit it again just ahead of the 2010 KMC polls to join the TMC.
“Subrata Mukherjee was not only an able organiser and administrator but had a deep connection with the grassroots level workers. Maybe, that was the reason that he was always on the winning side,” veteran Congress leader and MP Pradip Bhattacharya said.
In 2011, he was elected from the Ballygunge seat as a TMC candidate and was given the panchayats and rural development charge. During his tenure, West Bengal earned laurels for being one of the top-performing states in the implementation of the MGNREGA scheme. He also held the portfolio of public enterprise and industrial reconstruction. In February 2012, he was made the all India president of the INTTUC.
Mukherjee retained his Ballygunge seat in the 2016 and 2021 Assembly polls.
Just ahead of the 2016 Assembly polls, Mukherjee’s name cropped up in the Narada sting tape case along with a few other TMC leaders. He had denied any involvement and termed it a “political conspiracy”. On May 27 this year, Mukherjee, along with senior minister in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet Firad Hakim, MLA and former minister Madan Mitra and former Mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the Narada sting operation. Later, they were granted bail by the Calcutta High Court.
A graduate of anthropology and a master’s degree holder in archaeology, Mukherjee was a vivid storyteller who firmly believed in the existence of ghosts. He also acted in a television serial alongside Moon Moon Sen in the late 1980s.
He unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls thrice — from Kolkata Northwest in 2004 and from Bankura in 2009 and 2019.
The TMC minister was admitted to the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata last week following heart-related complications. He had undergone angioplasty and two stents were placed to clear the blockages in his heart. He was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital on Friday, but he suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died on Thursday evening.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to SSKM Hospital after learning about his demise, said. “I have seen many disasters in my life. But the passing away of Subrata Mukherjee is the biggest disaster in my life. A person of his stature, who loved the party and people of his constituency, will not come again. After I returned from Goa, I had met him at the hospital. He told me that he wants to resume his visits to the districts,”Banerjee said after reaching the hospital on Thursday night.
She also broke down while speaking to the reporters. “On this festival of lights, this feels like a massive darkness,” she said.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar recalled Mukherjee as a “gentleman politician”.
“As a seniormost legislator, I had many personal moments with him particularly when he used to receive me at Gandhi statue on October 2 and January 30. He was humble, very polite, very persuasive and a gentleman politician. My condolence to his wife. The void left by him is difficult to fill,” Dhankhar said after paying tribute to him.
TMC minister Firhad Hakim said:“I grew up seeing Subratada. He was my childhood hero. There were numerous instances when I approached him for advice and he always guided me… It is an irreparable loss. This void will never be filled. He was an inspiration to all of us… We have no words to describe this loss… I have lost my big brother.”
“This is the end of an era. A person like him is rare to find in politics,” said West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra and party spokesperson Sujan Chakraborty also paid their last respects to Mukherjee at Rabindra Sadan where his mortal remains were kept for the public.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose said recalled Mukherjee’s sense of humour. “He was a leader of a different kind. He maintained good relations with everyone. He also connected very well with people. I knew him from the time he was a student leader at Bangabasi College.”
BJP’s Dilip Ghosh said: “His contribution to Bengal politics will never be forgotten. He was the Bhishma Pitamah of Bengal politics. This is a big loss for all of us.”
In his condolence message, industrialist Sanjiv Goenka said, “In Subrata Mukherjee, we have lost a very good and a very capable leader. At a personal level, I had known him for over 35 years. It’s a very deep personal loss.”
Hundreds of supporters and admirers of Mukherjee paid homage to him at Rabindra Sadan. Later, his mortal remains were taken to West Bengal Legislative Assembly where MLAs paid their respects.
Later, his body was taken to his Ballygunge residence and also to Ekdalia Evergreen Club — he was a patron of the club. He was cremated with full state honours at Keoratala crematorium.
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