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As President Pranab’s tenure nears end, his village turns sad and nostalgic

Pranab Mukherjee will step down as the President of India on July 25.

india Updated: Jul 17, 2017 22:29 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times
Pranab Mukherjee,Meira Kumar,Ram Nath Kovind
President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurates the restored heritage buildings at regimental headquarter, PBG, Sch. - A, President's Estate.(PTI FILE)

In Mirati, a village about 180 kms north of Kolkata, there is a tinge of sadness because its most famous son, who used to walk seven km from the village to school in the early 1940s, will step down as the President of India on July 25.

For most villagers President Pranab Mukherjee is Poltu da.

A devout Bengali brahmin, Poltu da would rush back to Mirati ahead of Durga Puja, Bengal’s biggest festival. During the three days of the puja, he would attend all the rituals and perform Chandipath (reading out the scriptures). Dressed in full traditional Bengali attire for worship, Mukherjee would assist the priest in conducting the puja.

Irrespective of his responsibilities -- he held heavyweight ministries such as finance, defense, external affairs and commerce -- he would follow this routine every year.

“Never did he fail to turn up at his ancestral house during puja. Never did we bother what designation he held. The labels were of interest for the rest of the country. To us he was, and still is, our Poltu da,” said Dhanapati Choudhury, who lives in a house next to Mukherjee Bhavan, the ancestral house of the President at Mirati.

Some are actually happy that Mukherjee is retiring. “This puja he will hopefully not have the irritating security ring around him. We can visit his home without any trouble,” said Gopinath Dutta, 78, who has a grocery shop in nearby Kirnahar, and is a regular visitor to the Mukherjee family puja.

After Pranab Mukherjee became President in 2012, there were reports of identity cards being issued for his family members who live in the same house so that it becomes easier for the security officers to identify who would get easy access to the President.

As for Mirati, by the side of Kuye river, it would continued with an ordinary and faceless existence but for Poltu.

The river used to breach its banks every monsoon. The residents gratefully remember Mukherjee’s efforts to put an end to the woes. A concrete dam and sluice gate were built to tame the river. Mirati Kishore Samity, a club founded by Mukherjee, now houses a library.

“Most of the development works that you see here, from roads to sanitation to electricity, is because of him,” remarked Rabi Chattaraj, a long-time aide of the President.

The son of freedom fighter Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee, Poltu studied at Shibchandra High School in Kirnahar and left the village after he finished school education.

Another person who will be overjoyed to get her Poltu back is Annapurna Mukherjee, the President’s elder sister. She lives in Parota village about 3 km away, and is the only person whose feet the President still touches whenever he comes to his village.

However, the President’s two-day visit to his former constituency of Jangipur (about 100 km away in Murshidabad district) triggered some grievance among the villagers.

“We have read in the newspapers that he has come to Jangipur. We would have been happier if he visited Miriti as well for the last time as the President,” said his neighbour Dhanapati Choudhury.

One of Mukherjee’s relatives, retired professor of Vidyasagar University, Tarun Mukherjee remarked, “He has served the nation for more than four decades. After July he may not be in active politics, but surely people and the villagers of Mirati will benefit from his advice.”

Locals recalled how they celebrated the day their Poltu da became the first citizen of the country with crackers and beating drums. But ahead of his retirement, none has any idea how they will make July 25 memorable.

First Published: Jul 16, 2017 20:54 IST