Pranab Mukherjee was a workhorse who excelled at different roles
Pranab Mukherjee faced and triumphed over several challenges during his eventful five decades in public life. His passing has left a void in our public life; he was a consummate politician with multifaceted contributions to his credit. Pranab da is entitled to a certain space in the history of post-Independence India.
After he laid down the highest office of our country in 2017, I had a few meetings with Pranab da. Though I had a fairly good idea of his multifaceted personality, my personal interactions revealed much more than I knew of him. His deep understanding of our country, including its history and evolution and the current and future challenges, was amazing. At the end of every meeting, I used to walk away with an impression that he was nothing short of an encyclopedia. His number crunching ability and sharp memory at his age was bewildering. In his death, the country has lost a statesman at a critical time.
On a couple of times, when I had run into tough situations presiding over the Rajya Sabha, he called to put me at ease. His thoughtful gestures were comforting and useful. His sage words will remain in my memory. I often quoted him in the House, urging members to “debate, discuss and decide” and not disrupt proceedings.
Pranab da had the rare honour being the Leader of the House both in the Rajya Sabha and in the Lok Sabha, a distriction he shared with Lal Bahadur Shastri and VP Singh. As his colleague in the Rajya Sabha, I was witness to the seriousness with which he took his role. He had a thorough grip of the rules and procedures of the House. On a few occasions, he used to get worked up. When Shri LK Advani, as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, raised an issue, Pranab da was harsh on him. Soon thereafter, I walked up to him and politely submitted that he should not have dealt with Shri Advani the way he did. Pranab da quickly realised it and met Shri Advani to make amends. He even thanked me for bringing it to his attention. It was this rare quality that endeared him to all across the political spectrum.
Since entering the Rajya Sabha in 1969 and becoming member of the council of ministers in 1973 and demitting office of the President of India in 2017, Pranab Da had been a part of the journey and transformation of our country. He played an important role as a politician, legislator, negotiator and administrator, leaving a mark of his own. His meteoric rise from a clerk to the highest office of India was not fortuitous. It was a natural culmination of sustained manifestation of his deep reserves of knowledge, wisdom, ability and understanding of the men and women around. He proved himself to be a useful and reliable aide to all his benefactors whenever needed. His deep understanding of the contours, the fault lines and functioning of our polity lent solidity to his inputs and advice.
Pranab da was a relentless workhorse. The number of groups of ministers and empowered groups of ministers he chaired during 2004-14 speaks eloquently of his wide acceptance and ability to reconcile differences. I used to wonder about his stamina and capacity to take so much of a workload upon him and do justice to every job he handled.
Pranab Mukherjee held about a dozen ministerial assignments for about 25 years, handling about 10 ministries besides being the vice chairman of the Planning Commission. While the sheer scale and range of such important responsibilities do speak for the ability of the man, his contributions do so even more. Pranab da had a deep understanding of the pitfalls and challenges facing our society but also the limitations of the finances of the country. As the minister of finance for the first time in 1980, he proved to be an early reformer and worked hard to improve the financials of the country and introduced fiscal deficit targeting. As defence minister, he signed Indo-US defence framework deal in 2005 and scripted the first anti-terror games with Russia in the same year. India became a full dialogue partner of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) in 1996, when he was the external affairs minister.
As talented as he was, he nursed the ambition of, and even came close to, becoming the Prime Minister twice but missed out. He handled these misses in his own way. His actions during the Emergency also came under scrutiny.
I hold Pranab da in the highest esteem for his sweep of knowledge, including the cultural traditions and ethos of our society and the nationalist philosophy of our motherland. He had an abiding faith in the pluralism and diversity of our country.
Much against the advice of many, Pranab da, as the former President of India, addressed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s training camp at Nagpur in 2018. When he spoke there, he did so for India ,outlining its core philosophy of inclusivity, peace and harmony. He stressed that our nationalism flows from our Constitution and it is neither exclusive nor aggressive nor destructive. That is what statesmen are made of.
The five-decade-long public life and journey of Pranab da ran parallel to the transformation of our country. He had his own role to play in it. The passing of such a legend is an irreparable loss to the nation. My tributes to this great son of India.