OPINION | 'We Need Pranab to Continue to be the Voice of Conscience'
Possessing a wealth of experience and insight garnered at the uppermost echelons of Indian politics, this son of rural Bengal has served as a distinguished statesman on the global stage.
File photo of outgoing President, Pranab Mukherjee. (PTI)
It was late September in 2006. Pranab Mukherjee, then Defence Minister, had come to Harvard University to deliver a lecture at my invitation. Amartya Sen and I gave him lunch at the Faculty Club. I then gave him a walking tour of Harvard Yard in the afternoon showing him the buildings where Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore had spoken. Early in the evening more than five hundred students assembled in the Forum of Harvard’s Kennedy School to listen to Pranab Mukherjee’s lecture. He said he felt like ‘an antique piece’ among the young students who had gathered to hear him. Yet he was sharper and more alert than his youthful audience as he answered their questions with clarity and force. Occasionally, he would turn to me for the essence of the question and then give a crisp reply.
I remember Pranab Mukherjee called for the deployment of ‘soft power’ in attaining India’s strategic objectives. He recalled India’s historical ties with its neighboring regions. ‘While colonialism disrupted our traditional links,’ he said, ‘the cold war delayed their restoration.’ India’s connections with the outside world are now being recovered.
On another occasion I was with Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to Singapore as External Affairs Minister. He asked me to accompany him as he paid homage to Netaji and the martyrs of the Azad Hind Fauj at the INA Memorial. He was visibly moved as he did so. Of course, he visited Netaji Research Bureau at Netaji Bhawan on countless occasions. He admired my late father Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose for having preserved the best traditions of India’s freedom movement. In 2011 my book His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire was published. Pranab Mukherjee told me he read the entire book in two nights. He has a great love for history and literature.
Pranab Mukherjee was born in Kirnahar village in the Birbhum district of Bengal in 1935 and was educated in history, politics and law at Calcutta University. A top leader of the Indian National Congress, he served five terms in the Rajya Sabha between 1969 and 2004 before being elected to the Lok Sabha from the Jangipur parliamentary constituency in 2004 and 2009. He told me how happy he was to be directly elected by the people. He served with distinction as India’s Finance Minister, External Affairs Minister and Defence Minister. He would have been an outstanding Prime Minister. As our Rashtrapati, he protected the values of constitutional morality.
Possessing a wealth of experience and insight garnered at the uppermost echelons of Indian politics, this son of rural Bengal has served as a distinguished statesman on the global stage. We need him to continue to be the voice of conscience in India today.
(Sugata Bose is a Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University and MP, Lok Sabha. Views are personal)
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