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Congress leader and former Maharashtra CM Sushil Kumar Shinde on Monday reminisced about his long-time association with former President Pranab Mukherjee who passed away at the age of 84.

"I have been closely associated with former president Pranab Mukherjee since 1983. When he was the union finance minister of the country, I was the finance minister in the state of Maharashtra and that is when we began staying in touch. Since that day, I would say we met as often as time would permit. Later I was in Parliament and we both were there together as colleagues for a long time.

"He had an everlasting impact on me, particularly my public life. I remember two of such events vividly when I took public office and where he played a key role.

"One was in 2002, when Congress president Sonia Gandhi had announced my name as the chief minister of the state. At that time, Mukherjee was the party’s chief observer for the state who took that decision. In fact, I went on to become the first chief minister from scheduled caste (SC) community in Maharashtra.

"Nearly ten years later in 2012, he went on to become the President of the country. Prior to that he was serving as leader of the Lok Sabha, a very prestigious post and resigned therein to become the first citizen of the country. Eventually, I was appointed as his successor at the post in Lok Sabha and in doing so he played a very key role. He guided me through this phase and cooperated a lot.

"Mukherjee was known not just as an able minister but also for the Group of Ministers (GoMs) that he headed. I remember, in 2006 when I was the union power minister, he used to chair two related GoMs of the ministry. Some problems had come up and he was taking a look at it. It was not our mistake but the opposition then had been criticizing it. Mukherjee took a call and the opposition too did not protest upon it any further.

"His biggest strength was leading in times of crisis and he always showed the way. He was someone who knew the law and showed the way out. What also helped was that Pranab Mukherjee was very a decisive leader and always gave the right suggestions. I can never forget his leadership qualities. He worked for the poor and the downtrodden all his life.

"He was always known as the trouble shooter of UPA and the Congress party. That is largely because he knew the law very well, almost had it at the back of his hand. He had the perspective of present circumstances and his decisions were based on that experience. More often than not, his word was final and no one would challenge him.

"His political career spanned over decades and he had friends across political spectrum. He had well-wishers everywhere because he had an unflinching faith in democracy. He did not care whether it was about Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress, who ever came under democratic setup he would help them.

"I fondly remember that on my 75th birthday we had a grand function at Solapur and he made it a point to be there and give me his blessing. That is the kind of leader he was. My heartfelt condolences on the demise of Pranab Mukherjee.

"Shinde is a senior Congress leader and former union home minster who worked closely with Mukherjee in the union cabinet and the party."

(As told to Anuja)

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