Remembering Pranab Mukherjee, Congress' go-to leader

Remembering Pranab Mukherjee, Congress' go-to leader

Pranab da was a regular at writing diaries. Credit: DH

Pranab Mukherjee is the quintessential politician that any party would love to have. A no-nonsense politico, he was the go-to leader that Congress always depended upon whenever the party or the UPA government of 2004-14 faced a crisis.

He was arguably the longest experienced politician in the country in any party along with L K Advani; but Pranab tasted power for long, unlike Advani.

But the best thing about Pranab da, as he was fondly called, was that he would never show off his importance or indispensability. Though Manmohan Singh was the prime minister, it was Pranab who was the man most sought after. He was the trouble-shooter in chief. It was as though the government or the party would not run without his invaluable knowledge or crisis-solving acumen.

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One of the biggest crises that the UPA government faced was the nuclear bill or the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 for which the CPM was dead opposed to. Pranab da had to summon all his negotiation skills but the stubborn opposition to it from one Communist leader (Prakash Karat) ensured that the Left parties withdraw support to the government.

But that did not deter the Bengalibabu as he continued his talks with other parties. His sustained interactions with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh yielded the Samajwadi Party support to the government. The UPA-1 thus survived some very anxious moments.

Also read: Did Pranab Mukherjee aspire to become interim PM after Indira Gandhi's assassination?

A voracious reader, Pranab Mukherjee was an ace parliamentarian. If there was any key bill or debate where the government would be put on the tenterhooks, it was invariably the “short man” (“I missed the short man”, was how then prime minister Narasimha Rao exclaimed on the floor as he forgot to introduce Pranab as a minister to Lok Sabha in the early 1990s) who would be there to defend the government and bail it out.

Invariably, he was any political journalist’s favourite (like the late Arun Jaitley was). There was no dearth of stories that he would narrate if he would have time to chat – his relationship with people and politicians ranged generations. It was a joy just to listen to him. Even a 10-minute talk, one would come out with knowledge gained. But journalists would be guarded – for all those who would go to meet him knew no nonsense is allowed. Else, Pranab da would turn red in his ears and face. And one would know he is angry!

Many felt that he was a man who never became the prime minister despite having all qualifications. If at all one would ask him, he would say, “ I am always the PM – take the first  letter of my name, Pranab Mukherjee!”

Pranab had a liking for No. 13, though most would consider it inauspicious. Over the last many decades, till be moved to Rashtrapati Bhavan as he became the President, the modest No. 13, Talkatora Road, was his official residence in Delhi. He never vacated the house though he was entitled to bigger bungalows. His wife too had a liking for the house.

After he shifted, the house was taken by his son Abhijit, who won from the Jangipur seat in West Bengal that Pranab vacated. In Parliament too, No.13 was Pranab’s ministerial room during the UPA regime.

Pranab da has written several books. He was a regular at writing diaries but never thought of penning books. Pranab told a group of journalists just before he became President where this reporter was present: “One day Prime Minister Rao visited my house in the early 1990s – I was staying in a rented house in South Delhi. I was very depressed on that day. It had rained heavily and water had entered my house. The diary I had written had drowned in water. I had decided not to continue writing diary.  Rao asked me not to get disheartened and that I should bring out my diaries in book form. I resumed writing diary and began working for my books later. He inspired me.”

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