Pranab Mukherjee: The end of an era2 min read . Updated: 01 Sep 2020, 06:38 AM IST
- Encyclopaedic is the word that describes him better than any other
- The earliest step Pranabda took as President of India was to rearrange the library
The curtain has come down on an era with the passing of former President Pranab Mukherjee. If there was a quintessential seeped-in-Congress-tradition, a towering public figure who bridged the past with the future and strode with aplomb on the present, it was Pranabda, as he was called, both affectionately and with respect.
Encyclopaedic is the word that describes him better than any other. As for the history of the Congress party, I doubt if there was an event that he was unaware of and, in more recent times, that he had not participated in, if not steered for the then leader of the party. I saw Pranabda from close as my father’s (Khurshed Alam Khan) senior minister in commerce; the solid back up for Indiraji when the Janata government hounded her; as my minister in the ministry of external affairs; the leader of the group on foreign affairs at Panchmarhi; drafting resolutions at innumerable party gatherings; as one of the top four of the CCS (cabinet committee on security); as WBPCC chief during my stint as general secretary of the All India Congress Committee; as party confidant, we visited late at night to seek support for outstanding issues; for presenting books I had authored to him as President of India and even after he left Rashtrapati Bhawan.
To think that there was so much of Pranabda in my life and career—how much must there have been in the life of the Congress and the government? Some of the top civil servants can claim to have benefitted from his mentorship; some of the top business minds would recall how effectively he translated their wish lists into innovative policy initiatives; several generations of party leaders from Bengal and elsewhere who gained comfort and confidence by being able to share their aspirations with him. A true colossus and a pillar of strength is gone, leaving behind a void when his wisdom and sage advise were needed most.
The earliest step Pranabda took as President of India was to rearrange the library. He told me this with great joy when discussing a book that I presented him. Sadly, I could not take up the invitation to visit the library after its re-stocking. But I did have a chance to participate in his generous gesture to invite relatives of former, late presidents to celebrate their birth anniversaries. He asked us to gift personal objects of the departed predecessors for the museum he had set up in memory of those who had once sat at the head of the impressive Ashoka Hall.
Who would have thought that so soon the irrepressible, intellectual statesman of our times who was always in command of time will quietly pass on to become one of the many distinguished predecessors he acknowledged and celebrated.
I guess Pranabda did not get a chance to express his parting wish; but if he had a chance, he would have wished a long and wholesome life for the party he embraced as a young man and stood by across generations. As we give our final salute to the soul of the short big man, we cannot but wonder how big were the heart and mind that shaped the destiny of our politics.
Salman Khurshid is a senior member of the Congress party.
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