Who was Pranab Mukherjee? A Congress loyalist, the ex-president held key Cabinet portfolios in career spanning 5 decades


A powerful orator and scholar, Mukherjee had been a Congress stalwart for long before he was elected as India’s 13th President and served from July 2012 to 2017 in the top post.

Pranab Mukherjee, the 13th President of India, passed away on Monday.

Mukherjee’s health had deteriorated after a brain surgery  at the Army’s Research and Referral hospital in Delhi. The 84-year-old had also tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the surgery on 10 August.

powerful orator and scholar, Mukherjee had been a Congress stalwart for long before he was elected president in 2012, and served in office from July 2012 to 2017. He was a member of the Congress Working Committee, the highest policy making body of the party, for a period of 23 years.

Mukherjee also served as the president of West Bengal Congress for 10 years from 2000 to 2010.

Born on 11 December, 1935, in Mirati — a village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district — Mukherjee completed his Masters in Political Science and History and LLB degree from University of Calcutta.

Here is a look at Mukherjee’s illustrious career:

In a political career spanning five decades, Mukherjee was appointed to several ministerial posts in governments led by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Sigh.

Mukherjee entered politics in 1969 as an election campaign manager for VK Krishna Menon, an independent candidate fighting a by-election for the Medinipur constituency in West Bengal. Soon after the successful campaign, the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi offered him membership of the Congress party.

Mukherjee then became a member of the Rajya Sabha in July 1969, reports said. He was reelected to the Upper House in 1975, 1981, 1993 and 1999.

Before joining politics, Mukherjee worked as an “upper-division Clerk in the Office of Deputy Accountant-General, Calcutta”. Additionally, he also worked as a professor of political science and a journalist. He became “one of Indira Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenants” and was appointed as a Cabinet minister in 1973. He was also active during the controversial Emergency which was imposed on India for two years — 1975-1977.

Mukherjee was appointed as the finance minister from 1982 to 1984. During this period, he appointed Manmohan Singh as the RBI governor. Additionally, he held the portfolios of Commerce from 1993 to 1995; External Affairs from 1995 to 1996 and 2006 to 2009; Defence from 2004 to 2006.

He held the post of finance minister again from 2009 to 2012. Mukherjee was the Leader of the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2012 till he resigned to contest the election for the President’s office.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, succeeding prime minister Rao, appointed Mukherjee as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.

In 2012, Mukherjee retired from active politics to run for the post of President and on 25 July, 2012, he became the 13th President of India.

At the end of his tenure in 2017, he didn’t run for re-election and retired from politics due to age-related health issues. He was succeeded by Ram Nath Kovind.

On 8 August 2019, Mukherjee was honoured with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna by President Ram Nath Kovind.

Apart from ministerial posts, Mukherjee also served on the Board of Governors of the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank, The Economic Times reported.

“He has led the Indian delegations to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Conferences in 1982, 1983 and 1984; UNGA in 1994, 1995, 2005 and 2006, the Conference of Commonwealth Heads of Government at Auckland in 1995, the Non-Aligned Foreign Minister’s Conference at Cartagena in 1995 and the Conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the Afro -Asian Conference in Bandung in 1995,” the report said.

Pranab Mukherjee and the Congress

Known for his loyalty towards the Indian National Congress, Mukherjee ruffled a lot of feathers by accepting an invitation to a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) event in 2018. While some leaders questioned his loyalty towards the Congress, that “Pranab’s participation in the RSS event would give credence and respectability to an organisation known to be intolerant towards constitutional ideals, particularly those of secularism.”

However, as Mukherjee writes in his book ‘The dramatic decade: The Indira Gandhi years’, his family was dedicated to the Congress. “Father traveled from village to village, sharing meals with the locals and preaching the Congress ideology,” he wrote.

This dedication to the party carried forward through the “turbulent” years of Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister, including the period of the Emergency. In his book, he refers to his father’s advice to steadfastly support the party, and Indira in particular.

Mukherjee wrote, “He told me: ‘I hope you will not do anything that will make me ashamed of you. It is when you stand by a person in his or her hour of crisis that you reveal your own humanity,’”. And added that “his meaning was clear, and I didn’t then or later waver from my loyalty to Indira Gandhi”.

However, Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 resulted in shaky ties between Mukherjee and the Congress. When Rajiv Gandhi succeeded Indira Gandhi as the prime minister, Mukherjee found himself removed from the Cabinet without notice.

“I kept waiting for the call. Being dropped from Rajiv’s Cabinet was not even peripherally in my mind. I had heard no rumours… When I learnt of my ouster from the Cabinet, I was shell-shocked and flabbergasted. I could not believe it,” he wrote.

Soon after, in 1986, Mukherjee was also dropped from the CWC, The Print reported.

However, the two sides reconciled three years later when Mukherjee, who had founded his own party in 1986 called the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress in West Bengal, merged with the Indian National Congress “after reaching a compromise with Rajiv Gandhi,” The Indian Express report said.

Despite missing the office of the prime minister two times — once, after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991 and the second, when Congress won the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 — Mukherjee reportedly guided and nurtured leaders like Sonia Gandhi.

Under the prime ministership of PV Narasimha Rao, who took over after Rajiv Gandhi, Mukherjee was reappointed to ministerial posts.

Reportedly, Mukherjee played a big role in Sonia Gandhi’s ascension to the post of the Congress president. “It is believed that Mukherjee played a key role in educating Sonia, mentoring her to tackle situations the way her mother-in-law had once done,” the report said.

With inputs from agencies

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