Sri Pranab Mukherjee's demise has been considered by many observers as an end of a political era. He was the thirteenth President of India and a recipient of Bharat Ratna - the highest civilian award of the country. He passed away at the age of 85 on August 31, 2020, after a 22-day battle.
He was born in 1935 in a village called Mirity in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. His father, Kamadakinkar Mukherjee, was a freedom fighter and became a member of the Legislative Council of West Bengal in post independent India. Rajlakshmi Mukherjee was his mother. He graduated in Economics from Vidyasagar College, Suri. He then went on to do post-graduation in history and in political science from the University of Calcutta. Later he also completed LLB. He worked in the Post and Telegraph department as an upper division clerk. He also taught in a school in Howrah district and in Vidyanagar College in the district of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. He married in 1957 and is survived by two sons and one daughter.
Pranab da, as he was fondly called, joined the Bangla Congress in 1966, a new political party in the then Bengal under the leadership of Ajay Mukherjee. In the same year, he was sent to Rajya Sabha as a Congress candidate. There he came close to Indira Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister and from then onwards he never looked back politically. In 1973, he became a Minister of State for the Department of Industry, Government of India and became the Congress leader in Rajya Sabha in 1980. The first big achievement came in 1982 when he became the Indian finance minister. Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 was a brief setback. He had to leave Congress and formed his own political party – the National Socialist Congress (NSP). Pranab Mukhopadhyay was never a successful political organiser and his party did not get adequate political acceptance in Bengal. Later the NSP merged with the Congress.
In 1995 he again became the finance minister. Till 2004, he remained a member of Rajya Sabha. In 2004, he first became a member of Lok Sabha from the Jangipur constituency of the Murshidabad district. He also won again in 2009 from the same constituency. He became the foreign minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. But after three years, that is, in 2012 he became the President of India.
Success as a political personality
Pranab da had been at the helm of political affairs of the country for more than a quarter of a century before he left direct political involvement in 2012 and went for ‘the long walk’ to the Rastrapati Bhawan. He was a member of the working committee of Congress for more than 20 years in his successful political life. He had been members of more than 95 Groups of Ministers. He was a crisis manager of not only the Congress party but also of the nation. He upheld the interest of the country and was well-accepted by many leaders of different political parties. He became popular as he gave a patient hearing to official problems of other political leaders and was tolerant towards people who possessed different views from him.
He supported the free market economy but in spite of that he was considered as a conservative. This was because he had not fully supported a complete globalisation of the economic system at that time. Narasimha Rao was more satisfied with the performance of Manmohan Singh in opening up the Indian economy. Mukherjee maintained a reasonably clear image as a powerful political man.
Is Pranab Mukherjee's death an end of a political era?
There is no doubt he was a man with a different character. He was a secular person, tolerant of different opinions, a leader with convincing powers and a patriot. He worked hard and had direct involvement in drafting some of the most important policies in India. It is difficult to find all these qualities in one person. His demise does bring an end to a particular era in Indian politics.