An Ode to Pranab Mukherjee

By Namrata Kohli

Pranab Mukherjee had stepped away from active political life but remained relevant till his last day. One of the sharpest politicians with the cleanest history and track record, Mukherjee was perhaps the last of the lot’ of the credible political leaders, respected across party lines.

The fact that a “lifetime Congressman” was sworn in by the ruling BJP to the highest constitutional office of the country (that of President of India) and was given the country’s biggest honour, Bharat Ratna, was first-of-its-kind phenomena. His opinion mattered and even in dissent he was respected- remember how his presence at the recent RSS meet at Nagpur raised quite a storm in his own party.

His life stood testimony to many landmark events. He saw the assassination of Indira Gandhi, sudden swearing in of Rajiv Gandhi and later his tragic death, as well as the Emergency. After Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi told him – “Pranab, I know I will die for this country” – it was a premonition that he says “came tragically true”. Her death could not be announced and that was “one of the greatest challenges of his life” that he had “lived through” what with “a sitting prime minister being assassinated”. He says that “the most chilling part” was that Mrs Gandhi had to be kept “alive” till the new PM was sworn in.

What was his biggest regret? When media person and author Sonia Singh in her recent book “Defining India: Through Their Eyes” asked Pranab Mukherjee, “Do you regret Emergency? You were a key minister and confidant of Indira Gandhi.” He said- “in hindsight, Emergency could have been avoided. It would have been ‘better’ if it could have been avoided.”

He was often described as the best PM India never had. In his memoir “The Coalition Years” Mukherjee confessed that he had the impression that Sonia Gandhi had considered him as a PM candidate in 2004 and Manmohan Singh as a presidential candidate. When that did not happen, he was reluctant to join the Manmohan Singh government but “was eventually prevailed upon” and went on to become the main troubleshooter for UPA. In 2012, he was elected to Republic’s highest constitutional post- the position he once thought Manmohan Singh may occupy, that of the President of India.

He may have retired from the political life but you can’t take the politician out of Pranab Mukherjee. His favourite line as Sonia Singh quotes him are:

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah,
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah,
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu,
Maa Kashcid-Dukha-Bhaag-Bhavet”

Let everyone be happy. Let everyone be well, mentally and physically. In this inclusive approach, where is the scope of identifying an enemy?
Indeed, India lost a true gem, a real Bharat Ratna.

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