Former President Pranab Mukherjee is no more. To many, Pranab Mukherjee will remain the prime minister India never had even though he spent five years in the Rashtrapati Bhawan as the First Citizen of India.
Pranab Mukherjee was born in a politically active family in 1935, when the freedom struggle was in full swing. His father KK Mukherjee was a freedom fighter, who spent several years in prison for participating in the freedom struggle.
After Independence, Mukherjee senior was elected to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, of which he was member between 1952 and 1965.
Pranab Mukherjee completed his education and earned a degree in law in Kolkata, where he began teaching at a college in 1963. He was also associated with two Bengali magazines before he became fully active in politics.
Pranab Mukherjee’s political rise was fast after he successfully managed the Lok Sabha by-election in Midnapore for VK Krishna Menon — known for preparing the first draft of the Preamble to the Constitution, and being the defence minister at the time of the 1962 India-China war.
It was during the Lok Sabha bypoll preparation that Pranab Mukherjee impressed then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Pranab Mukherjee had his own Bangla Congress at that time. Menon had contested as a Bangla Congress candidate in the bypoll.
Pranab Mukherjee soon merged his outfit with the Congress. The same year (1969), Indira Gandhi got Pranab Mukherjee into the Rajya Sabha — his first stint as a Member of Parliament.
He was elected to the Rajya Sabha four more times in 1975, 1981, 1993 and 1999. He won the Lok Sabha elections twice in 2003 and 2009.
Indira Gandhi rewarded Pranab Mukherjee in his first term as an MP by appointing him as a minister of state in different ministries including finance in 1973-74. He was a member of the Indira Gandhi cabinet during the Emergency period and the Shah Commission later indicted him.
But as it happened, the Shah Commission was found to have overstepped its jurisdiction. Pranab Mukherjee emerged clean in 1979. Pranab Mukherjee became the Union finance minister in 1982. The finance ministry would become his favourite office in the years to come.
Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee developed differences with her son and successor in the PMO, Rajiv Gandhi. Given his proximity to Indira Gandhi and the trust she had reposed in him, some observers have said that Pranab Mukherjee thought his claim to the prime minister’s post was greater than Rajiv Gandhi’s in 1984.
Pranab Mukherjee was more experienced than Rajiv Gandhi in politics. He had become the deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha in 1979. A year later, he was the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha. At the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Pranab Mukherjee was the high-ranking finance minister in the Union Cabinet and Rajiv Gandhi a first-time MP.
When Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister, Pranab Mukherjee appeared as a threat to his position and was promptly relegated to political backwaters. Rajiv Gandhi sent him to manage the party’s affairs in Bengal.
Pranab Mukherjee, however, broke away from the Congress in protest to form his own outfit, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress in 1986. But as Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress faced rebellion by his finance minister VP Singh, Pranab Mukherjee returned to the fold ahead of 1989 Lok Sabha election, which the Congress lost.
Pranab Mukherjee was again in the reckoning in the PV Narasimha Rao government, when the Congress came back to power after the 1991 Lok Sabha election that followed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
During Rao’s tenure, Pranab Mukherjee first served as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission (the former avatar of the Niti Aayog) and then the external affairs minister.
He would become the Union minister again in the Congress-led government when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. It was a curious turn of events.
In 1982, it was Pranab Mukherjee who had signed the papers for the appointment of Manmohan Singh as the RBI governor. And, from 2004 to 2012, Pranab Mukherjee served as the minister for external affairs, defence, and finance at various times in the government headed by Manmohan Singh.
In July 2012, Pranab Mukherjee was elected as the President of India.