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The unheard story of the Pride of Bengal and son of Bharat, Pranab Mukhopadhyay

  • INDIA
  • Adrija Ray Chaudhury | Team PresentMirror | Updated: Sept. 6, 2020, 6:31 a.m.




Although the entire world recognizes him as an astute and conciliatory politician, Pranab Da was way more than that. He was an excellent professor, an erudite journalist and an outstanding orator with a phenomenal memory. Esemplastically placed, he was a beacon of hope for our nation in troubled times.


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Former president Pranab Mukherjee died on Monday in an army hospital at the age of 84. He was admitted to the hospital in Delhi Cantonment on August 10 and was operated the same day for removal of a clot in his brain. He later developed a lung infection. A Congress stalwart before he was elected as India's 13th President, Mukherjee served from July 2012 to 2017 in the top post. This is however known to everyone, but what still remains behind the curtains is his carefree childhood and his strong penchant for his country home. An awe-inspiring character in Indian politics who could deliberate on tax-reforms, skiff across poll results and recite 'Meghaduta' in Sanskrit in the same breath.

Days of growing up

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Image file: Capturing the Young Pranav da

A man of humble origins, Shri Pranab Mukherjee was born in the small village of Mirati in Birbhum District of West Bengal as son of freedom fighters, Shri Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee and Rajlakshmi on December 11, 1935. Shri Mukherjee’s father was a Congress leader who endured great hardship including being sent to jail several times for his role in India’s struggle for independence. The Crisis Manager of India spent his childhood in this small town which remained his rural respite even in his last days. Pranab Da was an epitome of perseverance and determination even in his salad days. His school was about 5 kilometres away from his house. Back then, there was a lack of well-paved roads in villages and he used to walk his way down to his school. The conditions used to worsen during monsoon when the roads got filled with water and the locals had it from their elders that our former President trudged through the water-logged streets in a towel, known as 'gamccha' in the local dialect. Nevertheless, he was never a diligent student and often used to skip school in order to play with his friends. In 2012, in an interview to ZeeNews, Pranab Da's elder sister, Annapurna Banerjee recalled the old days and said that her brother did not like to go to school but instead loved playing a priest. "Oh! He was always reluctant to go to the primary school in our village Mirati. It was difficult to take him to school. He got beaten black and blue. Once my mother thrashed him so severely that he fell unconscious. But still, he won't go. I don't know why?', she added. Although she distinctly remembers how her brother used to collect different kinds of flowers and gift them to her on the first day of Durga Puja; the most celebrated Bengali festival was always a blissful sojourn for our ex-President.

The story of the money-plant which disappointed Pranab Da

This story has assumed the stage of folklore now in the village of Mirati. A relative once handed him quite some money and asked him to bury them in the ground. He did as was asked and watered the plant regularly, patiently waiting for the plant to bloom and give him more money. It was no less than a surprise to the very young Pranab Mukherjee that the plant never grew but he learnt his lesson, which he later implemented while running the nation.

Pranab Mukhopadhyay as a teacher

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Image Credits: Livemint

Shri Pranab Mukhopadhyay attended the Suri Vidyasagar College in Suri (Birbhum), then affiliated to University of Calcutta. He subsequently earned an MA degree in Political Science & History and an LL.B. degree, both from University of Calcutta. He was appointed as an upper-division Clerk in the Office of Deputy Accountant-General (Post and Telegraph) in Calcutta. In 1963, he became a lecturer (Assistant Professor) of Political Science at Vidyanagar College, Kolkata.

In January 2013, President Pranab Mukhopadhyay took a stroll down the memory lane when he visited the Vidyanagar College to lay the foundation stone of the new building. Pranab Da was always heard mentioning his long and memorable association with the college where he spent 5 years teaching Political Science in the 1960s. Pranab Mukhopadhyay said in an interview that he was elected as teachers' representative to the governing body just about a month after joining as a teacher. Eventually, he went on to become its officiating principal.

He had students from all circles. His students, a day after his death were seen remembering him as a teacher who never faced troubles connecting with them. A 60 year old man recounts the days when he was an ignoramus in Political Science and it was Pranab Da who led him to become a master of the subject. The entire college mourned his demise; he would always remain an unforgettable experience for his students.

Perhaps that teacher in him prompted Pranab Da to remain the chairman of Indian Statistical Institute from 2004-2012. He also set up the Jangipur campus of Aligarh Muslim University.

Journalist Pranab Mukhopadhyay and his entry into politics

Pranab Mukhopadhyay worked as a Journalist with the Desher Dak (Call of Motherland) for a few years before he joined politics. He was encouraged by late Harendranath Majumdar whereupon he left his job and entered politics.

A marriage that crushed social prejudice

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Pranab Mukhopadhyay with his wife Shuvra Mukhopadhyay

Behind the man of moral probity and vigilant administration, was a dissenting iconoclast. Shri Pranab Mukhopadhyay came from a Bengali Brahmin family and the woman he loved was from a lower caste, according to the iniquitous social hierarchy. He went against his family and married Smt. Shuvra Mukhopadhyay in 1957. He had to leave his hometown and shifted to Amtala where the newly wed started their family.

From where it all started

Pranab Mukhopadhyay, throughout his life has been an avid follower of Congress. Even in his initial days i.e. in the year 1967, the then Chief Minister of Bengal, Mr. Ajay Mukherjee couldn't cut him off from his party despite offering huge political opulence.

His indefatigable campaigning prowess and oratory skills soon grabbed the attention of

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who made him a member of the community that represented India in the Inter Parliamentary Union meeting held in Paris. He was among the first leaders to raise questions on the independence of Bangladesh-a feat that popularised him in our neighbouring country. As insurmountable a loss this is to us, the people of India, Bangladesh too joins hands in lamenting.

A staunch supporter of Indira Gandhi

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Image file : Pranav Mukherjee and Indira Gandhi

Pranab Mukhopadhyay always made it very clear that his gumption to move forward came from his mentor Smt. Indira Gandhi. In 1973, he was appointed as the Union Deputy Minister of Industrial Development in Indira Gandhi's cabinet followed by his second entry in Rajyasabha in 1975. In 1977, Congress lost to Janata Alliance leading the party to a spectacle of political fiasco. The party lapsed into finger-pointing and recrimination and Indira Gandhi was the obvious victim. When a huge number of leaders were breaking away from the party, Pranab Da remained faithful to his coach. He sweared allegiance to his group during the controversial Internal Emergency of 1975–77 when a few ministers objectified Indira Gandhi for the same. His loyalty paid off. Following the Congress's defeat in the 1977 general elections, the newly formed Janata government-appointed Shah Commission indicted Mukherjee; however, the commission was itself indicted in 1979 for stepping "outside its jurisdiction. Mukherjee emerged unscathed and rose through a series of cabinet posts to become Finance Minister from 1982 to 1984.

Journey to the President of India

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Image file :Pranav Mukherjee as President of India

Pranab Mukherjee was sidelined from the INC following the assassination of Indira Gandhi although he was much more experienced in politics than Indira's son, Rajiv Gandhi. He was expelled from the mainstream and was sent to manage the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. In 1986, he founded his party, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC), in West Bengal. But his unflinching faith and inordinate fondness for his old party made him reach a compromise with Rajeev Gandhi and RSC merged into INC.

Pranab Mukherjee's political career revived following Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 when P. V. Narasimha Rao chose to appoint him as deputy chairman of the Indian Planning Commission and subsequently as a union cabinet minister. He served as External Affairs Minister for the first time from 1995 to 1996 in Rao's cabinet. The rest of history is known to the world. Later he served as Minister for Commerce from 1993 to 1995, Minister of External Affairs from 1995 to 1996, Minister of Defence from 2004 to 2006 and once again the Minister of External Affairs from 2006 to 2009. He was the Minister of Finance from 2009 to 2012 and Leader of the Lower House of Parliament from 2004 to 2012 till he resigned to contest election to the office of the President.

The unknown faces

Apart from being a distinguished diplomat, Pranab Da was a prolific reader and enjoyed reading, gardening and listening to music in his spare time-entirely reflecting the Bengali culture. He has authored several books on the Indian Economy and on Nation Building. The many awards and honours conferred on him include India’s second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhusan in 2008, the Best Parliamentarian Award in 1997 and Best Administrator in India Award in 2011. He is recipient of Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa conferred by the University of Dhaka in 2013; and Honoris Causa conferred by the University of Calcutta in 2014. ; Honorary Doctorate conferred by the Russian Diplomatic Academy in 2015; and Professor Honoris Causa conferred by the Belarus State University in 2015.Honorary Doctorate conferred by the University of Jordan in 2015; Honorary Doctorate conferred by Al-Quds University, Palestine in 2015; and Honorary Doctorate conferred by Hebrew University, Israel in 2015 and Honorary Doctorate conferred by the Kathmandu University, Nepal in 2016

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Pranab Da was a vowed devotee of Maa Durga and used to keep fast during Durga Puja.

Having brahman roots, he was well versed in scriptures and also managed to learn the mantras of Chandi by heart. He himself performed all the Durga Puja rituals in his hometown. The towering figure in politics was a generous patron as well when he reached out to the people in his village, offering them 'bhog' and 'prasad'. A very common story lurks till today when Pranab Mukhopadhyay stood up to resolve a dispute in a parliamentary session. When a question was raised if Maa Durga did drink Madhu during her 10 day battle with Mahisashur, Pranab Da recited that exact sloka from Chandipath which indicated our goddess did shoulder on constant drinks of nectar given by Kubera to fight her ignominious enemy.

Pranab Da was a family man. In October 2010, he was quoted as saying, “We don’t have any holiday, we don’t believe in any holiday. But sometimes I meet my family members during Durga Puja in my village home. That’s the time when most of my family comes home. That is what you can call a holiday or vacation or whatever nomenclature you may like to give, except that I don’t take a break"

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Pranab Da loved collecting his cartoons and putting them up for exhibitions

Last but never the least, he was a typical Bengali foodie, often indulging in the Bengali speciality 'maachbhat' (fish curry and rice)

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Pranab Mukhopadhyay being a foodie.Image Credits: Facebook

His last days

Pranab Da has been writing a diary for the past 40 years chronicling everything he’s seen in his life. He wrote regularly on Covid-19 and the last time he met an exemplary journalist from Kolkata, he wanted to discuss and gain more knowledge on the disease. The journalist remembers him saying,'Come home and we can discuss and write. We don't know how long this is going to stay. I may be gone by the time this ends.' 'Pranab Da's words still echo in my ears.',he added.

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Pranab Mukhopadhyay South Kolkata residence after his death

An emblem of strength and puissance-he was known for his remarkable poise and his imperturbable nature in times of crisis. His political interests were never marred by fear of consequences or national amour-propre. He has always projected his steadfast loyalty towards Gandhi policies and was never triggered by farcical scaremongering or loads of claptrap shown in different forms of press. He was known for bringing absolute antagonists on a common platform through talking. In his imitable style he often quoted Rabindranath Tagore, saying, “Have got much more than what I have given (Diyechi jaa, Peyechi taar anek Besi).”

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