Mukherjee will be remembered for the emotional connect he gave to the Bengali psyche. He scripted a narrative of pluralism that went beyond the usual give-and-take in hurly-burly politics.
Mukherjee’s contemporary ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury brought the Metro railway to Kolkata, but the dhoti-clad Brahmin rode into Bengali hearts when he assumed the highest office at Raisina Hills. He put West Bengal back in the national discourse at a time when Bengalis had started feeling left out of the Centre’s plans.
There was also a political aspect to the making of Rashtrapati in 2012. Mukherjee could do what was unthinkable in Bengal; he took archrivals CPM and Trinamool Congress on board in his presidential race, making a rare political statement. Mukherjee kept on making friends in the enemy camp, always trying to build a consensus across the spectrum.
Unlike Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee didn’t have a foreign degree to flaunt. Neither was he a glib talker like P Chidambaram. He was not a mass leader like Mamata Banerjee. But experience helped him grow as the troubleshooter in Congress, without the pedigree of Lutyens’ Delhi.
Mukherjee entered politics in the heyday of Naxalbari in the ’60s, when educated Bengali youth rebelled against parliamentary democracy. He joined Bangla Congress, a breakaway faction led by Ajoy Mukherjee, and became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1969.
He stood solidly by former PM Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay during the Emergency from 1975 to 1977. Congress made a comeback in 1980, but Mukherjee lost his Lok Sabha poll from Bolpur. Indira, realising his worth as a strategist, got him elected to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
It was also during this time the Left, under Jyoti Basu, kept complaining of Bengal’s deprivation by the Centre while Mukherjee served as Union minister or on the Planning Commission.
Pranab Mukherjee: From Mirati To Rashtrapati Bhavan
This was also true during his stint as Pradesh Congress president from August 2001 to 2010. Mukherjee backed Somen Mitra for the PCC president elections in 1992 while former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi threw their weight behind Mamata.
Mamata’s defeat in the PCC polls prompted a split in Bengal Congress, leading to its steady decline in electoral politics. Mukherjee had to bear it. The same person put the seal on an electoral understanding with Trinamool against the Left in the 2001 assembly polls.
But that didn’t deter Mukherjee from cultivating a working relationship with the Left after it won the 2001 polls and emerged as a key player for the first UPA government. But when the Left pulled the plug on the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, Mukherjee ensured Congress won a confidence vote. He was indispensable during UPA II when he took Trinamool ministers into confidence.
Few will remember Mukherjee for the Gadgil-Mukherjee formula — a revenue sharing model between the Centre and states. For most, Mukherjee will be a byword for survival in India;s fast-changing socio-political matrix.