New Delhi(PTI): Capping a 45-year-long run in government and politics, Pranab Mukherjee today embarked on a new and momentous journey as the country’s 13th President putting behind political affiliations and who could play a crucial role in the next Lok Sabha elections due in 2014.
Reaching the pinnacle of his career and away from the hurly-burly of politics, the 76-year-old Congressman from West Bengal, often called a ‘man for all seasons”, is variously described as a walking encyclopedia, chronicler of Congress history, expert in matters of the Constitution and governance and a stickler for rules in Parliament.
Renowned for his negotiation skills, the UPA’s little big man was till recently the troubleshooter of the ruling alliance, a task Mukherjee handled for the last eight years. The seasoned politician will now bring to the top Constitutional post his rich and varied experience.
Fondly known as ‘Poltu’ in his younger days, it has been a long journey for Mukherjee, from a humble village in West Bengal, to the seat of power in Raisina Hill and he could assume a crucial role in the next general elections.
Not an established lawyer by training but considered an expert in the working of the Constitution and governance, he was ever seen as the perennial ‘No 2′ in government.
Mukherjee, who will be away from the rough and tumble of politics, was a utility man from the days of Indira Gandhi, when he was the powerful Minister of State for Revenue during the Emergency, and later as Finance Minister in the 80s. He was also the External Affairs Minister in the 90s.
His rise had been steady and such valuable was his contribution to government that his nomination as a Presidential candidate came after a huge dilemma for Congress party, which heads the UPA coalition that has moved from crisis to crisis in the last eight years.
The veteran leader, known for his razor sharp memory, had become a Rajya Sabha member for the first time in 1969.
Mukherjee was for a long time member of the Upper House before his first direct election to the Lok Sabha in 2004 from Jangipur in West Bengal. He repeated his victory in the 2009 elections but had expressed a desire not to contest elections again in view of his advancing age.
Mukherjee was a top ranking minister and presided over the Union Cabinet meetings in the absence of the Prime Minister during 1980-1985.
Of course, Mukherjee had his own bad days in Congress which he had to quit in the mid 80s after he had evinced interest in becoming the Prime Minister after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984.
It took some time before he came back into the party but once he was in, there was no stopping his rise once again.
Mukherjee became Finance Minister again in 2008 after P Chidambaram was shifted to Home Ministry in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Again his importance was seen when P V Narasimha Rao made him Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission as well as Minister of External Affairs. In between he had to quit because he ceased to be a member of Parliament and came back to the Cabinet after re-election.
Mukherjee started his public life in the 60s in Bangla Congress during the time of late Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherjee of the United Front government when Jyoti Basu was Deputy Chief Minister in West Bengal. He was general secretary of Bangla Congress.
A post-graduate in political science and history, he can recollect any event of historical importance or mundane political and other events, a matter of envy to many of his colleagues.
Son of a senior Congress leader Kinkar Mukherjee from West Bengal, Pranab had a brief stint as lawyer, teacher and journalist before he was embedded to his destiny of politics in 1969, when he became a member of Rajya Sabha.
Mukherjee was Leader of the Rajya Sabha from 1980-85 and later he became Leader of the Lok Sabha.
When Mukherjee was Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh was appointed RBI Governor in 1982.
In what could be described a case of chasing each other’s shadow, Singh became Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission from 1985 to 1987, a post Mukherjee later held from 1991 to 1996, when Singh became Finance Minister in P V Narasimha Rao government.
Mukherjee also had a brief stint as Chairman of the Economic Advisory Cell of AICC between 1987 and 1989. Interestingly, Manmohan Singh also held this post, when Congress was out of power between 1999 and 2004.
Mukherjee, who started his career as a college teacher, always carried the traits of a teacher, never hesitating to give a reprimand or two to juniors whether in his party or Opposition.
He was also jocularly called ‘GoM Mukherjee’ in political circles as he headed 33 Groups of Ministers on various key issues including the recent one on setting up of Lokpal.
Mukherjee has five books published to his credit on political and economic issues and under his editorial guidance, the history of Congress was published in which there was a candid admission of excesses during the Emergency.
He got the best Parliamentarian Award in 1997. Ten years later, he was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour.
In Congress Party, Mukherjee became AICC treasurer in 1978. Journalists and AICC media department officials still recall Mukherjee’s tenure as the Media Department Chairman of the party. Mukherjee was AICC General Secretary in 1998-99.
In 1984-1991, 1996 and 1998, Mukherjee was Chairman of the Campaign Committee of AICC, besides being a member of the Congress Working Committee and Congress Election Committee.
Mukherjee held all the key portfolios including Defence from May 2004 to October 2006 and External Affairs from October 2006 to May 2009 besides the Finance portfolio, which he held again in 2009 after a gap of 27 years.
In the past, he also held portfolios like Commerce and Steel and Mines, Revenue and Banking (Independent Charge), Shipping and Transport, Industrial Development, Commerce and Supply besides presiding over a number of Parliamentary Committees.
Mukherjee got married to Suvra on July 13, 1957 and has two sons–Abhijit and Indrajit– and daughter Sharmistha. Abhijit is a Congress MLA in West Bengal.