NEW DELHI: Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who was on Wednesday sworn in as India’ 13th president, is the most active politician to ever become the country’s head of the state, according to News East-West.
When Indian supreme court chief justice S.H. Kapadia, administered Mukherjee the oath of office in the glittering Central Hall of Parliament, it marked the end of the political career of a leader who has been in the thick of things since 1969 when the Congress elected him to the Rajya Sabha.
There has been no looking for this kulin Brahmin from West Bengal’s Birbhum district since then.
Pranabda, as he is fondly called, has held just about every important portfolio in the Indian cabinet – from finance to commerce to defence to external affairs.
And, he was close to becoming the prime minister of India after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, but the Nehru family came in the way of the Number 2 man in the cabinet at that time.
In fact, he had reportedly told so (that Number 2 in the Cabinet should become the prime minister) to Rajiv Gandhi when they were flying back to New Delhi from West Bengal after hearing about the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Harbouring prime ministerial ambitions was his biggest mistake as the Nehru family has never taken kindly to any politician coveting the top political post in the country,
Pranab was sidelined by Rahul Gandhi who took over as the prime minister in 1984, and so were many Sanjay Gandhi loyalists.
Humiliated by the young prime minister, Pranabda chose to walk out of the Congress and float his own Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. But his party failed to take off as he had grown under the shadow of Indira Gandhi and had little base.
Finally, in 1989, Rajiv and Pranab buried the past and the Bengali politician was back in the Congress. And since then, Pranab’s stock in the Congress as its trouble-shooter has risen and risen. He has been rightly dubbed the Chankaya of Indian politics for his political skills.
But despite his trouble-shooting prowess in the dirty world of Indian politics, he never enjoyed the confidence of the Nehru family because of his political ambitions. Sonia too bypassed him when she nominated Manmohan Singh as the prime minister in 2004.
Curiously, his name was reportedly floated for the 2007 presidential election also, but Sonia opposed it. And it is the same Sonia who has put him in Rashtrapati Bhavan this time. Maybe he was needed for his trouble-shooting skills in 2007.
So why has he been kicked upstairs – as many call his elevation to the top post – this time? It is reportedly that his performance as the finance minister was far from impressive as the economy slumped. But how could the prime minister or Sonia tell their most senior cabinet minister and replace him? So the only route to get rid of him was to make him the president of the country.
Probably that suits the aging 78-year-old politician from West Bengal well. He has nothing to prove to himself or anyone else in Indian politician as he knows every intrigue and every player.
In the process, Pranab becomes the most active politician to occupy the top constitutional post in the country.
Though V.V. Giri, Fakhruddin Ahmed, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, Giani Zail Singh and S.D Sharma were politicians in their own right, none had the political skills of Pranabda. And none played as active a role in political intrigues as did Pranabda. He has been the party’s master strategist in times of crises – as seen from the number core committees and crisis groups he has headed.
But now he joins the ranks of the great statesmen such as Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Dr Zakir Husain who occupied independent India’s highest office in succession.
From a small, dusty village of Mirati in Birbhum district of West Bengal to the majestic 340-room Rashtrapati Bhavan, Pranab Mukherjee has come a long way.
Interestingly, the dreaded number 13 has proved lucky for him as he becomes the 13th president of India. And before moving to the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan, his address was 13 Talkatora Road in New Delhi.
Who says 13 is an unlucky number?