The man who created himself

Even today, Pranabda continues to be a workaholic, putting in 18 hours a day and heading 83 GoMs. No wonder he has earned himself the epithet of ‘GoM Mukherjee’.

The candidature of Pranab Mukherjee, as the UPA nominee for the forthcoming presidential contest, announced by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has drawn wide support from across the political spectrum, with there being little doubt, even amongst the staunchest of critics, that Pranabda, as he is fondly referred to, would be the most suitable candidate given his unblemished record in public life spanning almost five decades coupled with his wide experience in matters of governance and constitutional niceties. Pranabda, who hails from a middle-class family with a legacy of participating in the freedom struggle, spent his childhood in the small village of Mirati in West Bengal.

His story in many senses is like the story of India — with roots in humble beginnings, and flourishing on sheer commitment and confidence in one’s own abilities. This allowed him to ascend to the highest pedestals of success.
A carefree and naughty toddler, Pranabda preferred to play around and explore the rural landscape all day long. Traces of his erstwhile mischievous alter ego still gleam in his serious eyes every now and then. It took several years of diligence and a disciplinarian in his mother, Rajlakshmi, to carve out the mature, serious side we see of him today. But his mother’s firmness was accompanied with a generous amount of affection and that indeed left a lasting impression on Pranabda, who often becomes misty-eyed while speaking about her. It was Rajlakshmi who cultivated Pranabda’s interest in current affairs and reading by subscribing to a newspaper that would take two days to reach the sleepy hamlet from Kolkata. She would religiously make him listen to the news on the radio too. Pranabda’s earliest awareness about political and social issues came from his mother.
As a teenager, he went on to study politics, history and law in the Calcutta University. He worked as a teacher, a journalist and even practised law before entering politics in 1969. It was Indira Gandhi who recognised his talent and brought him into Rajya Sabha almost 43 years ago. There is an anecdote that is worth recounting. Pranabda loves to travel by train and this love for train-travel led to a slight delay in his induction into the Council of Ministers for the very first time as deputy minister. Pranabda, then a young MP, was travelling from Karnataka to Kolkata by his preferred choice of locomotive, when Indira Gandhi decided to induct him. But since there were no cellphones back then, there was no way of communicating this to Pranabda while he was in transit. It was only when he reached Howrah station that he was informed by the station master about the Prime Minister trying to get in touch with him. A trunk call was then made from the station master’s office to PMO and Pranabda rushed to Delhi for his swearing-in.
There has been no looking back since then. Pranabda’s efficiency saw him rise up the political ladder, occupying some of the most important portfolios, including external affairs, defence and finance. In fact, as finance minister he has the distinction of presenting seven Union Budgets, second only to Morarji Desai. Even today, at the ripe age of 77, Pranabda continues to be a workaholic, putting in 18 hours a day and heading almost 83 Groups of Ministers (GoMs) on varying issues since 2004. No wonder he has earned himself the epithet of “GoM Mukherjee” in political circles. His indispensability as an administrator and political trouble-shooter can hardly be overstated. On issue after issue, Pranabda’s disarming smile and infallible logic have often paved the way for conciliation with a rigid Opposition or a sulking ally. His encyclopaedic knowledge of closed-door political affairs and anecdotes which find their way into his diary, which he writes daily, is bound to be a treasure-trove for those who want an authentic insight into India’s contemporary history. One wonders if Pranabda will ever consider publishing his memoirs.
Armed with a photographic memory — one that allows him to recall meetings with crystal clarity and rattle off names of members of the Congress Working Committee over half a century ago, exceptional negotiating skills, craftsmanship with words and a knack for parliamentary politics, Pranabda has been able to earn the respect of friends and foes alike. And one believes that these qualities along with his sense of fairness and uprightness would hold Pranabda in good stead in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Although Pranabda has always presented himself as an Indian first, there is no denying that his becoming President will be a huge matter of pride for Bengal in particular, given that no other Bengali has had the distinction of occupying the highest office of India until now.
A devout believer, Pranabda religiously reads the sacred texts, fasts during Durga Puja and truly epitomises the quintessential Indian family man — devoted as a husband and doting as a father. He represents the very best in Indian politics and his high stature bears testimony to this. In these cynical times, when certain groups have tried to paint every political leader with the same brush, the entry of an active politician like Pranabda into Rashtrapati Bhavan will definitely give Indians an opportunity to reassess that politics indeed has its share of noble men and women.
When Pranabda put in his papers on Tuesday, it was an emotional moment. Bidding farewell to a friend, philosopher, guide and an institution like him can never be easy, yet it has to be done, with a heavy heart. The golden chapter of Pranab Mukherjee’s service to the government and the Congress Party may draw to a glorious close but one is certain that as President of this great republic he shall script many more chapters of unconditional service to the highest national cause.

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