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2024-04-21 20:48:15

Pranab Mukherjee: The man whose absence in India-Bangladesh relations is deeply felt

Naem Nizam

Pranab Mukherjee: The man whose absence in India-Bangladesh relations is deeply felt

I miss Pranab Mukherjee deeply.  He took the Bangladesh-India relations to a new height. Pranab was described as the Chanakya of Indian politics. He started the journalism profession after completing post-graduation in Law. He, later, joined the teaching profession. In his colourful long political career, he was a crisis manager. He played a responsible role during the internal crisis in India. He emphasized friendly relations in foreign policy. He was an admirable personality to all. He was out of the party politics of India. He worked for the country leaving personal interest. Leaders of all political parties respect Pranab. He was a teacher of Indian politics. When Pranab was sick, senior Indian journalist Jayanta Roy Chowdhury said, “There is no compare of Pranab Mukherjee.” There was no scientific invention to preserve the brain of Pranab. But his brain was needed for the Indian subcontinent. Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Narasimha Rao, and Narendra Modi took advice from Pranab Mukherjee. Narendra Modi always praises Modi.     

Not only in India, Pranab was also involved in the politics of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan. He maintained political communication with all. He stood by all during bad times like dear ones. He was very close with Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Sri Lanka’s former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also respected Pranab Mukherjee. Many politicians of Nepal used to take advice from him. He had a very good relationship with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He liked the two daughters of Bangabandhu very much. They had family relations. Pranab once told me that BNP’s Mostafizur Rahman maintained relation with him when Mostafizur was foreign minister. He went Bagerhat with Mostafizur. Late President Ziaur Rahman invited him to Dhaka twice. Pranab was astonished by behave of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia when he visited Bangladesh as Indian President. Khaleda met Pranab at Rashtrapati Bhavan during her Delhi visit as opposition leader. Khaleda Zia supported Jamaat’s hartal during Pranab’s Dhaka visit. She also cancelled the pre-scheduled meeting with Pranab avoiding diplomatic norms. 

Pranab Mukherjee was a true friend of Bangladesh. He was an emotion to Bangladesh. He played an important role in keeping the relationship normal between the two friendly countries. His relationship with Bangladesh started in 1972. Pranab was a public representative at that time. He supported and helped Bangladesh’s Liberation War. He met Bangabandhu several times. While discussing, Bangabandhu asked about Pranab’s ancestral identity. In reply, Pranab told Bangabandhu that he is a genuine Bangalee. A deep relationship between the Pranab family and the Bangabandhu family started after the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975. He maintained the relationship until his death. Pranab considers Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana as his family members.  Suvra Mukherjee always kept in contact with Bangabandhu’s daughters. Pranab always stood by Bangabandhu’s daughters during any need. The son and daughter of Pranab consider Sheikh Hasina as their guardian. The assassination of Bangabandhu hit Pranab Mukherjee. He talked about the matter with Indira Gandhi. He regularly took information when Bangabandhu’s daughters took shelter in India. The dreamer politician could receive the people as dear ones. He always talked about Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana and his affection for them. Pranab wrote about Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana in his autobiography.

Personally, He liked Bangabir Kader Siddique very much, whom he used to called Bagha. Bangabir Kader Siddique was the first resistance fighter after the tragic and brutal incident of August 15 of 1975. Then, Pranab Mukherjee stood beside him and provided all kinds of assistance. Pranab Mukherjee’s wife Suvra Mukherjee was another reason for which he had a special affection to Bangladesh. She came from the greater Jashore region, and her birthplace was Bhadrabila village of Narail. Suvra Mukherjee went to Kolkata with her family when she was only 10, where her studies and grow up were completed. She and Pranab Mukherjee lived a very happy life after their marriage which lasted till death. The death of Suvra hurt Pranab deeply; however, he recovered the loss gradually. Pranab and Suvra were the parents of two sons and a daughter. Their son Abhijit Mukherjee was selected as the member of Lok Sabha more than once and daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee was involved with the politics of congress. Though, Sharmistha isn’t involved with politics anymore, Abhijit is still active.

Pranab Mukherjee's entry into politics was a little different. He was a college professor who came to politics and also achieved win in this field. In 1969, he was elected as an independent candidate in Medinipur by-election. He surprised everyone by participating in election. He grabbed attention of Indira Gandhi while talking about the crisis in West Bengal. Indira invited him into the party and he joined it. His relationship with Indira was deep. She was Indira Blue Eye, but this relationship was damaged due to a misunderstanding with Rajiv Gandhi. He left Congress as Rajiv expelled him. He formed a new party called Samajwadi Congress out of amour-propre. However, that party did not have much success. Even his own people in West Bengal abandoned him. After Rajiv's death, he became active in Congress again in 1991. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao made him Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. He served as External Affairs Minister in Narasimha's cabinet.

Pranab Mukherjee was an exceptional politician. His skills in crisis management were unmatched. He was placed in the committees formed to solve various complex issues within India. Indira Gandhi had a trust in him. Others also thought that Pranab could solve complex problems. He has written eight books about his long experience on his journey of life. There are also books on the events of 1/11 in Bangladesh. Although he served in various ministries, he was more popular as the minister of finance, foreign affairs and Defense.

Pranab was born in Meerati village in Birbhum, West Bengal. This village is near Kirnahar town. Pranab's father was Kamdakinkar Mukherjee, and mother Rajlakshmi Devi. His father was a Congress leader who participated in the anti-British movement. He served 10 years in prison. After the partition of India, he became a member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. Pranab grew up in the political environment from childhood. He did journalism in "Desher Dak" newspaper, and then joined the college as a professor. Gradually he became active in politics following his father's path. He was in the Indian Parliament for more than 50 years. He traveled as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1969. He became a deputy minister in Indira's cabinet in 1973. Then there was no looking back. In 1982, he got the charge of finance minister. The professor of political science successfully brought new momentum to the Indian economy. Manmohan Singh was the Governor of Reserve Bank of India during Pranab's tenure. In 2004, he won from Jangipur constituency in Murshidabad and went to Lok Sobha. At that time he was supposed to be the Prime Minister. In a cruel irony of fate, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi chose Manmohan, however Pranab remained silent. He joined Manmohan Singh's cabinet and work tirelessly.

Pranab Mukherjee was the first Bengali President. The term of the President ended in 2017 and he was successful as president. He was sworn in as President on 25 July 2012. Common people could visit Rashtrapati Bhavan when Pranab was President. He opened the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan for everyone. The people of his constituency used to visit there. He listened to everyone's happiness and sadness. He would solve the crisis. Common people from different parts of India could meet the President and there were no obstacles. Pranab had a special relationship with artists, writers and journalists. I met him many times during his tenure as President. He once said Bangladeshi artist Shahabuddin came to meet me and stayed here for some days. Artist Shahabuddin painted many pictures during his stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

I went to Delhi again for another purpose. Suddenly I thought I’d met Pranav da. Again, I wondered whether the President would be able to give time so quickly. Even after that I called the President's APS Pradyut da. Pradyut was the general secretary of All India Youth Congress during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure. Although he was an APS, he worked with Pranab Mukherjee as a political secretary.

After exchanging pleasantries, Pradyut da guessed why I called. Before saying anything, he said why not you called from Dhaka and come to Delhi? You know that Pranab Mukherjee is now the President of India. His times are fixed. In reply I said there is no problem even if we can't meet this time. I came for another job. Give him my greetings.

After two hours my mobile phone rang. Someone from the other end said “ADC from Rashtrapati Bhavan speaking! Mr. Nizam Your appointment with His Excellency the President tomorrow at half past two. Give your vehicle number to be told at the gate. You will arrive 30 minutes early.” I went to Rashtrapati Bhavan at the appointed time. I went inside and saw many people from Jangipur, Pranab Mukherjee's own area, waiting to meet him. There I talked to some people.

That afternoon, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, was in a cheerful mood. He talked to me about Bangladesh and praised Sheikh Hasina's efficient leadership. He said he will work with Sheikh Rehana on various issues.

After retiring from the post of President, he moved to a house at 10 Rajaji Road. I went to meet him within a few days of moving into the new house. He led me inside the house to show it to me. He said that late President APJ Abdul Kalam lived in this house till his death and wanted to know whether I liked the new house or not. He said there are many places around and I can walk in the morning. He arranged a library and there are collection of  many books. He expressed his desire to read and write there. While speaking, he had in his hand a book written by Syed Abul Maksud on the Kagmari conference of Maulana Bhasani. I asked him have you read this book. He replied he was reading it. Someone has given many books from Bangladesh some time ago. If it's a book, I don't need anything else.

Pranab Mukherjee used to read, used to write. Eight books written by him are available in the market. One of his books contains the history of 1/11 in Bangladesh, which was also discussed. He reminisced about several things which were not stated in the book. When I came back, I published it in The Bangladesh Pratidin.

Pranab Mukherjee fell ill during the period of Covid-19. On August 9, 2020, I got news that he had fallen in the bathroom at 10 Rajaji Road in Delhi and was slightly injured. The next morning he found that he could not move his left hand. There are some other problems in the body. There is also a slight fever. He was admitted to the hospital on August 10 and found Corona positive in the test. There were other problems, too and the doctors were worried. They decided to do an emergency surgery after found the bleeding in the brain. The doctors took permission from the family. The former President of India continued to fight on the brink of death in the hospital. He fought for 20 consecutive days. On August 31, 2020, he breathed his last. Pranab Mukherjee's long journey has stopped. He embraced death. He left forever and went to the land of no return.

Writer: Editor, The Bangladesh Pratidin

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