Throughout his life, Pranab Mukherjee remained a fighter and emerged victorious in most of the challenges. Perhaps the only fight he lost was the latest one – with his destiny- as he passed away Monday evening at the age of 84 – 22 days after he was admitted to the Army Hospital (Research and Referral) in New Delhi following an emergency operation for a clot in the brain from which he never recovered.
Indira Gandhi brought in the ‘little master’ to the Rajya Sabha as a member of the Bangla Congress, a breakaway Congress group formed in the State back in 1966. It merged with the Congress in 1970.
Pranab received his first Ministerial assignment in the Indira Gandhi in 1973, first as junior minister of industrial development. Within two years, he was elevated as a deputy Minister with independent charge of revenue and banking departments.
Mukherjee quickly made headlines with a crackdown on the then Bombay smuggling underworld don Haji Mastan. In 1982, shortly after Indira Gandhi returned to power from the post-Emergency oblivion, she appointed Mukherjee as India’s Finance Minister, replacing R Venkataraman. And, there was no looking back after that. Mukherjee had fiery innings as FM.
He surprised the world by sending back a $1.1 billion instalment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan. A cautious reformer, he was nevertheless the first to stoke up expenditure without letting inflation get out of hand. He also opened the NRI investment window, which pioneered sweeping changes in India’s image as a destination of foreign funds.
A man who did not hesitate to express his views, Pranab ignored the dismay in the ranks of the party he had been a part of. At the same time, he remained loyal to the Congress, and more importantly, to the nation.
He proved a dependable guide for Sonia Gandhi as she stepped into a new political role, entering Parliament in 1999. After APJ Abdul Kalam, he made Rashtrapati Bhavan more accessible to people.
Pranab was not just an astute politician. He earned respect for his encyclopaedic knowledge of history and the Constitution. In his passing away, the nation has lost a treasure trove.