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Pranab: 'Perennial No. 2' is now India's First Citizen

Last updated on: July 25, 2012 13:44 IST

'Perennial No. 2' is now India's First Citizen

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Capping a 45-year-long run in government and politics, Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday embarked on a new and momentous journey as the country's 13th President, putting behind his political affiliations.

Reaching the pinnacle of his career, the 76-year-old Congressman from West Bengal, often called a 'man for all seasons", is variously described as a walking encyclopedia, chronicler of Congress's history, expert in matters of the Constitution and governance and a stickler for rules in Parliament.

Renowned for his negotiation skills, the United Progressive Alliance's 'little big man' was till recently the troubleshooter of the ruling alliance, a task Mukherjee handled for the last eight years. The seasoned politician will now bring to the top Constitutional post his rich and varied experience.

Fondly known as 'Poltu' in his younger days, it has been a long journey for Mukherjee, from a humble village in West Bengal to the seat of power in Raisina Hill.

Not an established lawyer by training but considered an expert in the working of the Constitution and governance, he was seen as the perennial 'No 2' in government.

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Image: President Pranab Mukherjee with former Presidents Pratibha Patil and APJ Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Courtesy: PIB

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Mukherjee, who will be away from the rough and tumble of politics, has been an 'utility man' since the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when he was the powerful minister of state for revenue during the Emergency and later the finance minister in the 80s. He was also the external affairs minister in the 90s.

The veteran leader, known for his razor sharp memory, had become a Rajya Sabha member for the first time in 1969.

Mukherjee was a member of the Upper House for a long time before his first election to the Lok Sabha in 2004 from Jangipur in West Bengal. He repeated his victory in the 2009 elections but had expressed a desire not to contest elections again in view of his advancing age.

Mukherjee was a top ranking minister and presided over the Union Cabinet meetings in the absence of the prime minister during 1980-1985.

Of course, Mukherjee had his share of bad days in Congress, which he had to quit in the mid 80s after he evinced an interest in becoming the prime minister after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

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Photographs: Raj Patidar/Reuters

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It took some time before he came back to the party but once he was in, there was no stopping his rise once again.

Mukherjee became finance minister again in 2008 after P Chidambaram was shifted to home ministry in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

In the early 90s, Prime Minister had P V Narasimha Rao made him deputy chairman of the Planning Commission as well as the minister of external affairs. In between he had to quit because he ceased to be a member of Parliament and came back to the Cabinet only after a re-election.

Mukherjee started his public life in the 1960s in the Bangla Congress during the tenure of late Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherjee of the United Front government, when Jyoti Basu was deputy chief minister in West Bengal. He was general secretary of the Bangla Congress.

A post-graduate in political science and history, he can recollect any event of historical importance or politics and his sharp memory is a matter of envy to many of his colleagues.

Son of senior Congress leader Kinkar Mukherjee from West Bengal, Pranab had brief stints as a lawyer, teacher and journalist before he joined politics in 1969, when he became a member of Rajya Sabha.

Mukherjee was Leader of the Rajya Sabha from 1980-85 and later he became Leader of the Lok Sabha.

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Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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When Mukherjee was the finance minister, Manmohan Singh was appointed the governor of Reserve Bank of India in 1982.

In what could be described a case of chasing each other's shadow, Singh became deputy chairman of Planning Commission from 1985 to 1987, a post Mukherjee later held from 1991 to 1996, when Singh became finance minister in P V Narasimha Rao government.

Mukherjee also had a brief stint as Chairman of the Economic Advisory Cell of the All India Congress Committee between 1987 and 1989. Interestingly, Manmohan Singh also held this post, when the Congress was out of power, between 1999 and 2004.

Mukherjee, who started his career as a college teacher, always carried the traits of a teacher, never hesitating to give a reprimand or two to juniors, whether in his party or in the Opposition.

He was also jocularly called 'GoM Mukherjee' in political circles as he headed 33 Groups of Ministers on various key issues.

Mukherjee has five published books, on political and economic issues, to his credit. Under his editorial guidance, the history of Congress was published, in which there was a candid admission of excesses during the Emergency.

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Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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He got the best Parliamentarian Award in 1997. Ten years later, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour in India.

In Congress Party, Mukherjee became AICC treasurer in 1978. Journalists and AICC media department officials still recall Mukherjee's tenure as the Media Department chairman of the party. Mukherjee was AICC's general secretary in 1998-99.

In 1984-1991, 1996 and 1998, Mukherjee was Chairman of the Campaign Committee of the AICC, besides being a member of the Congress Working Committee and the Congress Election Committee.

Mukherjee held all the key portfolios including defence from May 2004 to October 2006 and external affairs from October 2006 to May 2009, besides the finance portfolio, which he held again in 2009 after a gap of 27 years.

In the past, he also held portfolios like commerce and steel and mines, revenue and banking (Independent Charge), shipping and transport, industrial development, cmmerce and supply, besides presiding over a number of Parliamentary Committees.

Mukherjee got married to Shubhra on July 13, 1957 and has two sons -- Abhijit and Indrajit -- and daughter Sharmistha. Abhijit is a Congress Member of Legislative Assembly in West Bengal.

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Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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