Cong. leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury says he was a fountain of wisdom
In his career spanning over five decades Pranab Mukherjee had made an indelible mark not only on the politics of West Bengal but also on the society at large.
As tributes poured in from across the political spectrum on his death on Monday, a number of anecdotes on how he shaped the political discourse also came to fore.
One of the last political events he attended before being elevated to the office of the President in 2012 was asking MLAs of the West Bengal Assembly to vote in his favour.
In his imitable style, he did not stress that the legislators should vote for him, instead quoted Rabindranath Tagore saying, “Have got much more than what I have given (Diyechi jaa, Peyechi taar anek Besi).”
Months later in September 2012 when the West Bengal government organised a public reception for him, Mr. Mukherjee, the then President, quoted Prime Minister of England Antony Eden describing the Indian Constitution “as the most magnificent Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation” and added “I believe this with all my heart and soul.”
Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and MP from Behrampore and a close associate, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, described Mr. Mukherjee as an encyclopedia. “It is an end of an era. A person of such a tall stature is rare. He was a fountain of wisdom,” Mr. Chowdhury said.
Trinamool Congress MP and a close associate, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, said Mr. Mukherjee’s contributions for strengthening the banking system were hardly given the attention they deserved.
Grief in village
When the news of his demise reached Mirati village in Birbhum where he was born in 1935, there was public outpour of grief. Locals who have witnessed him returning to the village every year on the occasion of Durga Puja were in tears. “He was President to rest of the country but for us he was always an elder brother in the family,” his sister Swagata Das said.
His residence in Dhakuria in South Kolkata, where he used to stay and entertain guests during his tenure as Union Finance Minister, is full of memories of the former President with a number of photographs of Indira Gandhi and Congress leaders adoring the walls of the apartment.
Mr. Mukherjee was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jangipur in West Bengal in 2004 and 2009. The Congress leader, while thanking the voters, had said journalists would call him a “formidable wanderer” and people of Jangipur finally gave him a constituency, he could call his home.
“So many memories. A visit to Delhi without Pranabda is unimaginable. He is a legend in all subjects, from politics to economics,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.
The West Bengal government has announced a state holiday on September 1 as a mark of respect to the departed leader.
In her formative years as a Youth Congress leader, Ms. Banerjee closely interacted with Mr. Mukherjee. In fact, Mr. Mukherjee played a crucial role in forging the Congress and Trinamool Congress alliance in 2011 which ended the Left Front rule of 34 years.
Leaders of the Left parties also expressed their condolences over Mr. Mukherjee’s demise. Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Samik Lahiri said the veteran leader had come and introduced himself when he was elected for the first time to Parliament.
Not only people from political world but also from the world of academics shared fond memories about Mr. Mukherjee. Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University) and a friend from his college days, said Mr. Mukherjee was very shy in his childhood and nobody could have believed that he would rise to become such a tall political personality.
“He always read a lot of books which were not part of the curriculum. Pranab did his Masters in Political Science and History from the University of Calcutta,. Before entering mainstream politics, in the 1960s, he worked as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vidyanagar College in South 24 Paraganas,” Mr. Mukhopadhyay said.
The academician said there were several facets of his personality that were not known as to how he came to the rescue of students of a school in Basirhat in North 24 Parganas who had to cross a river to reach their school.
“Pranab arrived at the school in just four days of receiving a letter from students and got a bridge sanctioned,” he said.