Former President Pranab Mukherjee, one of India’s illustrious politicians and a dedicated public servant, passed away on August 31, 2020. A man who wore many hats in the Indian political arena, Mukherjee has the rare distinction of serving as the union minister of 4 cabinets and leading major international organisations.
Pranab, who time and again referred to India as a ‘great country’, inherited his father’s patriotism. After a stint at teaching, a 34 year old Pranab was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1969, a time when the upper house was full of experienced statesmen and nationalist leaders like Jairamdas Daulat Ram and Bhupesh Gupta. Having always held the parliament in high regard, he went on to make a niche for himself in the institution, serving it for 37 years. Seemingly simple, but a hardened parliamentarian, he stressed on the importance of the parliamentary culture of debate in legislation. A true blue of the Indian National Congress, he found in Indira Gandhi, his mentor. He stood by her during the “dramatic decade” which saw her redefine the Congress Party, its fall post emergency and an eventual power restoration with an overwhelming majority. He became the Finance Minister in 1982. He was at the centre of policy decisions in the Narsimha Rao Government and the United Progressive Alliance, serving as cabinet minister.
Throughout a political career akin to an epic, he additionally served as deputy minister, leader of both houses of the parliament, and several other offices of administration. Popularly known as the ‘best Prime Minister India never had’, he came close to being the Prime Minister on two occasions; 1984; 2004. The highpoint of his career came in 2012, when he was elected as the President of the Republic. [A textbook president, he considered the constitution to be the nation’s political bible, regarding it as the “Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation of a vast multitude of people living in India”.] A statesman who had the rare approval from across the Indian political spectrum, his presidential candidacy was able to drum up support from a multitude of opposition parties at a momentous time when Indian polity stood strictly divided. As a person, Pranab was a constant learner, who believed that “self-correction is always better than self-justification”. Despite stark ideological contention, he used to go for an occasional morning walk with former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Post his presidential term, he began viewing Indian politics with a non-partisan objectivity; President Pranab or Citizen Pranab, there remains much to learn from this impeccable personality.
From being a young boy in a remote Bengal village to deservingly being nominated to the highest echelon in Indian polity, Pranab Mukherjee would undoubtedly be cherished as India’s phenomenal Rajneetik Ratna.