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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

On the Passing Away of the Former President of India, Dr Pranab Mukherjee | Humra Quraishi

Friday 4 September 2020, by Humra Quraishi

With the passing away of the former President of India, Dr Pranab Mukherjee, I have been sitting thinking of that one lone occasion when one could walk up to him and exchange greetings during that brief interaction with him at a reception that he, as President of India, had hosted at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

This was around 2014 when I was invited for a reception where Dr Pranab Mukherjee exchanged greetings and also spoke to the guests…In fact, that was my very last entry into the Rashtrapati Bhavan, as thereafter my name was probably struck off the guest list as I got no further invites. In all probability, with the Right-Wing government coming centre- stage, journalists and writers who write too persistently and constantly against the Right- Wing sarkar’s policies, have been taken off the guestlist for any of the government hosted functions or dos or get-togethers ...Perfectly fine by me. Anyway, I’ve always tried to keep away from the Who’s Who except when journalistic assignments got me interacting with them, for the write-ups and interviews for the various newspapers and publications.

Getting back to that 2014 evening when I attended the reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan lawns hosted by Dr Pranab Mukherjee. Dressed in a black achkan/ shervani, he made it a point to not just greet the guests but to even talk to the many present there …. There was a pleasant smile on his face, and he across as a warm friendly person, with a strong personality.

Not to overlook the vital fact that all these years one had been hearing details to his intellectual prowess. Much later I reviewed one of his books --- ‘The Coalition Years -1996-2012’ (Rupa), but unfortunately couldn’t get to grasp any of the lesser-known aspects to him, as that book has been written with a very obvious cautious strain to it

Perhaps, written along with the expected strain --- after all, seasoned politicians are cautious whilst writing about the political ‘happenings’ and do not come up with anything which could unsettle the already settled creases. It is one of those ongoing dismal realities of the times we are destined to be living in. Nah, no dragging out skeletons from political cupboards, no revealing of the behind-the-scene happenings, no clearing haze from the build-ups, no direct queries or accusations heaped on any of the political rulers.

And with that in the background, Dr Pranab Mukherjee’s ‘The Coalition Years- 1996-2012’ came across as no different…For those who have been following the political scenario rather too closely there was nothing very much to look forward to in this book, as those accounts carried no fresh input or even that vital potential to get one startled or all too worked up! Also, certain specific happenings complexly bypassed. No mention of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. This, when the Gujarat pogrom is considered to be one of those turning points in the recent history of India which heralded the blatant rise of the fascist forces in India.

How I wish Dr Pranab Mukherjee had taken us backstage to some of the happenings on the political scenario. After all, he was in the midst of the political scene for decades --- he entered Parliament at the age of thirty-four and rose to become the 13th President of India…During his political years he had held various portfolios — Minister of Defence, External Affairs, Commerce and Finance. He was also elected to the Rajya Sabha five times and twice to the Lok Sabha and he was also member of the Congress Working Committee for 23 years. Above all, he’d been a witness to the several turbulent political phases in the country. After all, right from the mid-90s, India has been witnessing changing political patterns with the rise of the Right-Wing parties.

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