How Pranab could have missed becoming Prez
For a man who started his career as an upper-division clerk in the office of the Deputy Accountant-General (Post and Telegraph) in Kolkata, occupying the top constitutional post of the country itself speaks of a meteoric rise.
And however much one may talk of the foregone conclusion of Pranab Mukherjee’s destination, the climb to the zenith was everything but cinched. Because few know of the events that forced the hand of the Congress high command to script a destiny that in the end turned out to be propitious for this once small town boy from Bengal.
Having slogged in his prime to cement the position of Gandhis in national portrait, and even courting controversy during Emergency, this is probably the best return gift that Pranab could have expected. But his one-time blasphemous outburst claiming the right to the prime ministership ahead of Rajiv had created a crack-in-the-china with Sonia - a crevice that has never been filled.
So when Mamata Banerjee went to meet Sonia Gandhi and was handed two options – Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari, the former was rightly outraged.
Having dropped broad hints about wanting to be a resident of Raisina Hill, he had expected Sonia Gandhi to back him all the way. And if some newspaper reports are to be believed, this is exactly what the fuming former FM told Sonia’s aide after Mamata anti-climaxed in front of the media.
Mukherjee is believed to have tauntingly asked as to why he was singled out for the honour of having an alternative for the candidature of President. And how was it that Sonia Gandhi had no other options in mind when she had proposed the name Dr Manmohan Singh as the prime minister.
Obviously, Pranab was hit where it hurt the most. Between the lines, his words meant two things. One, how come he had not been the alternative to Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. Two, why Sonia Gandhi did not ever back him to the hilt the way she supported her other loyalists. And this was despite the fact that he had been one of the main architects of Sonia’s entry into national politics.
The outraged Mukherjee is speculated to have threatened that he would hand over his resignation if he was not announced as the candidate of the Congress for the top constitutional post.
As per the report, when the communication was revealed to 10 Janpath, Sonia is believed to have asked for time to come to a final conclusion and wanted to sleep over the issue. Gandhi must have mulled the implications of the exit of a heavyweight such as Mukherjee and the repercussions for the government at this sensitive juncture when she is busy paving the path for Rahul.
Finally, the decision was made. Number 13 seemed to have proved lucky for the man once again, for he is now titled the 13th President.
And so while Pranab would be Congress’ man at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he has actually entered the portals of this architectural splendor with a slight prick in his heart.
After all, if Pratibha Patil could have so easily been awarded Mughal Gardens for her evening walks for just organizing dinner menus for Indira Gandhi, shouldn’t Pranab have been given the palace on a platter?
Mukherjee has undoubtedly been the most crucial man in the UPA, and their most able ally builder and trouble shooter.
From the time that he started his political career in 1969 under Indira Gandhi, he carved an incontrovertible place for himself in her cabinet and was called a “man of all seasons” by her. Since then and till date, he has held every top portfolio except the Home Ministry.
From here on though, trials, triumphs, and trounces would be a thing of the past. Pranab should be happy man. He has got all the cushion and grandeur without the spears of accountability. He could look at the poor PM if he needs further proof of his good fortune.
Besides, Pranab, who was also called Poltu in his younger days, has always been exceptionally intelligent.
If I were to recall another sparsely famous anecdote, one would know why he has been lauded for his acumen. As a child, his siblings often wondered how he managed to buy sweetmeats from the money his mother gave him to purchase groceries. They were puzzled as their mother was meticulous and gave the kids exact change to buy ingredients. Young Poltu is believed to have ingeniously quipped that while their mother always counted the change, she didn’t weigh the ration!
During his long days in Delhi, when he was in throes of complex political calculations, the Bengali babu would unwind by smoking his pipe and resting in his easy chair even as his wife Suvra would sing Rabindra Sangeet or devotional songs. Incidentally, like the prime minister’s wife Gursharan Kaur, Mukherjee’s wife is also a vocalist and has been a radio artist.
A journalist visiting him at his 13 Talkatora Bungalow found Pranab, a voracious reader, thumbing the presidential speeches of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan a day before the voting for the presidency. Obviously, Pranab would have settled for nothing less, as he prepared for his grand entry into the presidential house.
Having planned his retirement at the first residence of India, sitting in his easy chair with acres of green stretching before him during gloaming hours and listening to his wife’s melodious renditions would be a the perfect sunset on a stellar career.
Pranab Mukherjee has always been a man comfortable in his skin. He had said famously said he is contended at the height destiny has placed him. At the moment, Pranab is at the pinnacle. A man more ordinary would have probably got vertigo if he had to go through it all.
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