The current President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, is a giant among politicians. Suave, Savant, Shrewd, Pranab Mukherjee is the Grand Daddy of Indian politics. No wonder that Modi, a few months ago, described him as being a university in himself. With his mastery over Indian constitution, his knowledge of established Parliamentary traditions and his deep understanding of law, Pranab Mukherjee is one of the finest men to have been elected as the President of the nation. Ever since the landmark 2014 general elections, he has been able to put himself above the country’s petty politics and politicians and ‘do the right thing’. His relationship with Modi government appears to be cordial and above partisan politics. This has not stopped him from hauling the government over coals whenever required. Modi government’s perceived ‘Ordinance Raj’ was apparently ended with Pranab Mukherjee’s counsel. It was Pranab Mukherjee who is believed to have advised the government against trying the Joint Session of Parliament route for the land bill, claiming that it was unpredictable. Recently, Pranab Mukherjee shot back into headlines over his decision to have Home Minister, Rajnath Singh explain government’s decision to impose President’s rule in Arunachal. Given that the case is pending before Supreme Court, the fact that,cases of promulgation of President’s rule have increasingly come up for scrutiny before courts and the hue and cry raised by Congress, it was surprising to see a quick Presidential assent on the case. While there might be reasons such as government being on strong ground, adequate legal safeguards being in place etc. etc., conspiracy theorists suggest that the assent was Pranab Mukherjee’s way of making Congress pay for denying him Prime Minister’s post in the past.
Pranab Mukherjee was an out and out Indira loyalist. In fact it was she who brought him into politics in 1969, giving him a Rajya Sabha seat. As the years went by, Pranab Mukherjee came to be recognized as Indira’s ‘man of all seasons’. During the infamous Emergency, Pranab Mukherjee was widely recognized as using extra constitutional measures to wreck governance norms. In fact, he was so indicted by the Shah Commission, but Pranab Mukherjee was a small fish in the dark, murky ocean known as emergency and hence escaped with no serious allegations against him. In fact, his devotion to Indira Gandhi was such that even 3 decades after her death, Pranab Mukherjee could confidently say ‘I did not waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi’. When Indira Gandhi returned to power, Pranab Mukherjee, by now a known face was appointed as India’s finance minister. In his book, The Dramatic Decade- The Indira Gandhi years, he recounts how he was given a dressing down for contesting elections from Bolpur in West Bengal. It is believed to be a combination of his good luck and the astrologically significant number of 22, that saw him become the Finance Minister despite his electoral loss. Soon however, Indira Gandhi would be gunned down and the curtain it seemed would draw on Pranab Mukherjee’s political career.
Pranab Mukherjee was widely recognized as being the No. 2 in Indira’s government. Though a pale shadow of his political master, he had by now, perfected the art of Indian politics. Pranab Mukherjee was with Rajiv Gandhi, addressing a rally in West Bengal when the news of Indira Gandhi being gunned down reached them. Both Rajiv and Pranab Mukherjee rushed back to Delhi in a special plane.The Prime Minister’s seat seemed to be within Pranab Mukherjee’s grasp. Little did he know, the man he was sharing his flight back to Delhi would rob him of his well deserved opportunity. Within hours of Indira’s death, Rajiv Gandhi was coronated as India’s next Prime Minister. The anti-Pranab gang in the Congress moved fast to even deny him a ministership in the reconstituted cabinet. Relations between Rajiv and Pranab reached a nadir. It is believed that once when Pranab Mukherjee and Rajiv Gandhi met each other in the Central Hall of the Parliament, Rajiv Gandhi reportedly said ‘Just look. A few days ago crowds of MPs would be following you. Today, there’s not one. What a change’. Exasperated, Pranab Mukherjee once reportedly remarked ‘Indira had died and left him a zinda laash’. Disgusted by Rajiv Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee quit Congress party and formed his own Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. However, Pranab Mukherjee had overreached himself. He neither had Indira’s charisma, nor Rajiv’s perceived earnestness, shunned by the masses, Pranab Mukherjee returned to Congress’s fold in 3 years. It is believed that President Venkatraman wanted Pranab Mukherjee to succeed VP Singh as the Prime Minister, but this was once again stalled by Rajiv Gandhi, eventually the ‘Young Turk’ Chandrashekhar would be made India’s Prime Minister. For almost a decade thereafter, he would be on the periphery of Indian politics.
The 2004 Electoral fiasco led to BJP being booted out of power. Congres under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership was all set to form the government. Given the opposition to Sonia from some quarters, it was widely believed that Pranab Mukherjee would finally get the opportunity to become the Prime Minister. That opportunity too was brutally taken from him. Manmohan Singh, architect of India’s economic reforms, but also someone who had never tasted electoral success was ‘selected’ by Sonia Gandhi to become the Prime Minister. The technocrat Prime Minister was brutally manipulated and used by Sonia Gandhi and her coterie of thugs to wreck reforms, stall progress and make money. Pranab Mukherjee, in his capacity as the Defence, External Affairs and subsequently Finance minister continued to be the backbone of Manmohan Singh’s government, till he was selected by Sonia Gandhi as UPA’s Presidential candidate in 2012. With his appointment as the President, Pranab Mukherjee forfeited all chance of becoming India’s Prime Minister. After the 2014 drubbing at the hustings, seasoned Congressmen such as Salman Khurshid could be heard exclaiming that Pranab Mukherjee and not Manmohan Singh deserved the Premiership.
For a man who had been wronged by his political masters more than once, Pranab Mukherjee remains a Congress loyalist. He describes his decision to leave Congress as a bad decision,attributing it to frustration winning over patience. He has also repeatedly denied that he ever held aspirations for Prime Minister’s position. However, more politics happens behind the scenes than on TV screens and there are strong reasons to believe that Congress and the Gandhis denied Pranab Mukherjee a well deserved opportunity to serve as the nation’s Prime Minister. Probably, at some level, it has been the nation’s loss as well.