Former President Mr Pranab Mukherjee death is the passing away of a leader who adhered to Parliamentary procedures and constitutional norms. Perhaps, Mr Mukherjee was among the last of that generation that believed consensus the only way to run the country though sometimes such consensus could help the status-quoists only. After his death, lots of tribute have poured in including the RSS, the Prime minister who posted some of the photographs with Pranab Da. Anchors called him a doyen and ‘sarkaar’ bowed to his ‘achievement’. Interestingly, the same sarkaar vilified Nehru, his ideological mentor yet glorified Pranab Mukherjee and yet Mukherjee could not much to defend Nehru.
While I respect Pranab Mukherjee’s administrative acumen yet somehow, I never became fond of his politics or personality. All through these years of his public life, if scrutinized, we will only find him an ‘expert’ in drawing room maneuvers. He was considered as the main ‘brain’ of UPA I and II but if we go through the phase, we can see the gross failure of UPA in handling Anna movement and therefore allowed his own party’s fortune to be doomed in 2014. He was at the helm of affairs since 2004 but never did he advise strong action against Gujarat government for its absolute failure in 2002’s anti Muslim riots. I mean, what stopped UPA from even legally fighting cases and bringing accountability.
Today, every ‘secular’ liberal’ ‘expert’ is joining chorus with his or her Sanghi jaat waalahs to push through the throats, the ‘greatness’ of Pranab Mukherjee. Some suggest that he was the ‘greatest’ PM India never had, others blamed Rajiv Gandhi ‘gang’ in denying Mukherjee his place in the Rajiv Cabinet. Those who are writing today about Rajiv’s ‘gang’ were actually ‘fans’ of the Gandhi family but perhaps to look more ‘secular’ or independent, they are showing their distance from them when the family is being vilified.
Pranab Mukherjee was Finance Minister during Indira Gandhi’s period from 1980 to 1984 and then Man Mohan Singh made him Minister for External Affairs as well as Defence Minister. In the UPA II he was also made the finance minister when P Chidambaram was transferred to Home Ministry in the aftermath of Mumbai attack in November 2009. I don’t remember anything very specific that Mukherjee did at the Ministry of Finance except the one very well known fact that he was very close to the biggest ‘industrial house’ and the closeness got reflected in his attending the wedding ceremony of that family.
As finance Minister Mukherjee imposed tax in retrospection or what we called back dated since 1960s on a company which was opposed by them. One can say that he was the political face of ‘apolitical’ Man Mohan Singh Ministry. It happens when the prime minister is unable to deal with political friends or opponents. That is where Congress damaged itself during that period because corruption rose and it was not merely a ‘narrative’ but we all know privatisation became the mantra for every one. Yes, ‘consensus’ became the ‘compulsion’ of the Congress Party and being familiar with all political leaders Pranab Mukherjee became the favored choice. This also reflects lack of political leaders who have acceptance across the party line. Mukherjee was a typical orthodox politician of old Congress type who would go by the rule books. He loved Parliament and can be said the master of parliamentary procedures. This happens because Parliament does not have a Madhu Dandawate, Indrajeet Gupta,, Somnath Chaterjee, Chandra Shekhar or other like them, doyen of parliamentary politics and what we call parliament without them looked silent. So, in terms of these basics, he was perhaps the last of those stalwarts even when I can say that he stood nowhere never them both in oratory and public service but given the quality of members of Parliament and the way ministers or prime ministers ignore it, Pranab Mukherjee was one of the those who respected it.
Now, it is also important how and why has Pranab Mukherjee become so ‘pratasmaraniya’ i.e. to be remembered first in the morning of our ‘liberal’ as well as Sanghi journalists. How have they taken him to new heights. As President of India, Mukherjee followed everything that the government advised him. He could not return a single bill and was doing everything to ‘please ‘ Narendra Modi for a possible second term. There were reports that the business house in Mumbai was more than keen to bring him back to Rashtrapati Bhavan but somehow the internal political dynamics inside BJP and RSS could not come to a unanimity regarding him. Yet after retirement, Pranab Mukherjee continued to flirt with Sangh Parivar. He addressed the RSS gathering at Nagpur. As a President, he did not have time to look at the mercy petitions that came to him. There were a whole lot of issues which were important including CAA and citizenship act but we did not hear much from ‘citizen Mukherjee’. Unlike many of those political leaders and his contemporaries who did not compromise with power to live permanently in the heart of the capital, Pranab Mukherjee ensured he remained with political power. I don’t see any of his actions, decisions where he can be hailed as champion of ‘secularism’ and ‘social justice’. In fact, in a typical brahmanical fashion who would quote extensively those icons but ignore the who issues of caste atrocities and caste discrimination as if it never happened.
Pranab Mukherjee was a Bhadralok politician and his religious brahmanical values always reflected during the Puja ceremony which he would always go to his native place and was seen in performing all those rituals which none expect from those who are ‘thinkers’ or intellectuals. Religious rituals and intellectualism don’t go together as ultimately your religious thoughts decide your personality and outcome. Even when it was absolutely personal and one respect but it gives us an idea that people like Mukherjee who we consider intellectual have nothing to speak against the superstition and discrimination prevelent in our society. Definitely, it was the brahmanical privilege that he enjoyed those days and it is that only which was glorifying him today even when his ‘party was not in power. He definitely had a lot to do in Delhi as he was part of political structure for so long and decided our destiny but he was never a common man’s leader and perhaps he enjoyed what he was. Till 2004, he never contested Lok Sabha election and yet he was in the top circle of the ruling party, in all decision making bodies and yet without ever a thought for contesting Lok Sabha election. It was for the first time he contested Lok Sabha election in 2004 from Jangipur in West Bengal and won the election. He represented that constituency twice.
There is no doubt that he was a political president who brought political wisdom to Rashtrpati Bhavan unlike those who pretended to be apolitical. His being at Rashtrapti Bhavan could have actually benefited the government of the day a lot but the fact is at the end he was just balancing things with the government of the day, perhaps looking for becoming a ‘consensus’ candidate again which could not happen. A consensus that he built for so many years during the UPA regime but that eluded him when he contested or wanted to re-contest the Presidential election again.
Corona is the worst period for any one particularly those who are in public life. It does not give an opportunity to near dear ones to come and express their condolences. It is sad that Mr Pranab Mukherjee passed away during this period. Anyway, he was the former President of India and hence got all the protocol that he deserved. One does not know how much people of India will remember him as he really was never a mass leader yet the powers of the day will keep his memory alive for various reasons, one due to Bengal elections and second to haunt the Gandhi family further. He must be remembered for his contribution to strengthening Parliamentary procedures and constitutional politics but not to strengthen the narratives and ideologies that he opposed lifelong.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity