Farewell, Pranab da
Pranab Mukherjee — who served as India’s Rashtrapati; as finance, external affairs, defence, industry and commerce minister; leader of the House in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha; deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission — passed away on Monday. In his political life spanning over five decades, Pranab da, as he was fondly called, saw a meteoric rise from a lecturer of political science in a college in West Bengal to the apex of the Indian State. Through this journey, he emerged as among the most important leaders of the Congress, working with a range of leaders from Indira to Sonia Gandhi; the key trouble shooter for his party and all Congress-led governments; and a figure who was central in political decision-making in the country.
What made Pranab da special? It was not mass base, for he won his first Lok Sabha election only in 2004. But what he may have lacked in grassroots electoral support, Pranab da more than made up with his formidable intellectual capital. His exceptional skills of drafting party resolutions and policy statements, managing intra-party dynamics and inter-party relations, providing sound political advice to his leader of the day, and managing multiple constituencies — from business lobbies to social activists, from party leaders and cadres to the bureaucracy — were an asset to the Congress. But if there was one institution that was truly home for Pranab da, it was Parliament. Since the time he first entered the Rajya Sabha in 1969 to his exit from Lok Sabha after becoming President in 2012, Pranab da mastered parliamentary procedure, participated in the cut and thrust of debates, and played a huge, often invisible, role in shaping laws and policies.
A true reflection of his political survival skills was the fact that he was Indira Gandhi’s senior most minister in 1984 when she died, and he was the core of governance paradigm under Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2012, even though his record as finance minister drew criticism. Pranab da could not fulfil his ambition of becoming prime minister (PM), but he went further up the Raisina Hill. When he became president, he rose above party politics, building an excellent working relationship with PM Narendra Modi. After leaving office, he also visited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters — while this drew flak from his former colleagues, it was a sign of his conviction that democracy meant dialogue with all forces. As the elder statesman of Indian politics departs, it will be a void hard to fill.