Former President Pranab Mukherjee, 84, who died on Monday from Covid-19-related complications, was rightly described as a man for all seasons. He had this extraordinary knack of befriending leaders across the entire spectrum of politics. Rising from a teacher in a district college, he attained almost everything there was by way of elective office, through his excellent rapport with generations of leaders in his own Congress Party and, later, with the leaders of the non-Congress parties as well.
The only high office which he wanted desperately but which remained out of his reach was the Prime Minister’s. Sonia Gandhi preferred a political novice, Manmohan Singh, rather than the veteran and widely-experienced pipe-smoking professor from Bengal. He had earned her distrust due to a misunderstanding stemming from his stated wish to become PM following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Sonia was determined to have her husband installed in the prime ministerial 'gaddi'. After a short stint outside the Congress umbrella, he returned to his alma mater, and soon occupied key ministries. In this, he was helped by the head of a corporate group which had 'cultivated’ Mukherjee from the time he first became a deputy minister for industrial development, way back in the 70s. The relationship between the corporate house and Mukherjee proved beneficial for both.
Having held all the key portfolios in several Congress governments and with Prime Minister’s post unavailable, Mukherjee sought the President’s post. Sonia was not enthusiastic, determined on Hamid Ansari, with an eye on the Muslim vote with the added advantage of keeping out the man whom she least trusted. Thanks to Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mukherjee occupied the highest constitutional office in the land despite Sonia.
In his last years, he came particularly close to the leaders of the RSS-BJP, controversially becoming the chief guest at a RSS event in Nagpur.