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India grieves as former President, elder statesman and Bharat Ratna Pranab Mukherjee dies at 84

Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee died after battling health complications following a brain surgery at Army’s Research and Referral Hospital in the Capital on Monday evening. He was 84 and had also tested positive for Coronoavirus. The surgery had taken place earlier this month and he had remained in a deep coma.

Often described as the elder statesman of Indian politics, Mr Mukherjee was honoured with India’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna on August 8 last year at Rashtrapati Bhawan. He was President of India from 2012 to 2017.  

 “With a Heavy Heart , this is to inform you that my father Shri Pranab Mukherjee has just passed away inspite of the best efforts of Doctors of RR Hospital and prayers, duas and prarthanas from people throughout India ! I thank all of You,” his son Abhijit Mukherjee, member of Lok Sabha, said in a tweet.

Among the first to pay tributes was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he was blessed to have Mr Mukherjee’s guidance since he took office in 2014.

“India grieves the passing away of Bharat Ratna Pranab Mukherjee. He has left an indelible mark on the development trajectory of our nation. A scholar par excellence, a towering statesman, he was admired across the political spectrum and by all sections of society,” Mr Modi said in tweets.

 “I was new to Delhi in 2014. From Day 1, I was blessed to have the guidance, support and blessings of Shri Pranab Mukherjee. I will always cherish my interactions with him. Condolences to his family, friends, admirers and supporters across India. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister said.

On Monday morning, the Army hospital had reported a decline in Mr Mukherjee’s  condition. He had gone into septic shock due to his lung infection, the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital said.

The former President was admitted to hospital on August 10 and surgery was performed the same day for the removal of a clot in the brain. He had tested positive for COVID-19 in hospital. He developed a lung infection and a renal dysfunction over the past few days, according to the hospital.

High and mighty in the country’s political circle often described him as the “best Prime Minister India never had’’, Mr Mukherjee, veteran Congressman, was also the trouble-shooter for the party. He handled all key portfolios in the governments of Prime Ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. He steered the affairs of Defence, Finance, External Affairs and Commerce Ministries with ease and handled the rough and tumble of politics in Parliament. However, he could not make it to the top post. In 2004 when the occasion arose, Congress President Sonia Gandhi herself declined the post and chose Dr Manmohan Singh for the top job who was junior to Mr Mukherjee. But he hit it off well with Dr Singh and the two shared a great relationship in and out of Union Cabinet.

It was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who got him elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1969. He was part of every Congress government at the Centre since then barring the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi who did not pick him up for a Cabinet berth. His services were utilized by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao in the Congress government.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed that that Mr Mukherjee was “correctly upset when I was made Prime Minister”. Speaking at the launch of Mr Mukherjee’s book, he said: “He had a reason to feel upset but he respected me and we have a great relationship which will continue till we live.”

Mr Mukherjee knew the intricacies, pulls and pressures of the government and had a thorough knowledge of the Constitution, Parliamentary rules and procedures and economic policies. It was his expertise and deep understanding that made political leaders from across the wide spectrum look up to him for consultations and “Pranab-Da’’, as he was fondly called, never disappointed any one.

It was his sharp mind, political acumen, vast administrative experience and problem solving ability that Dr Manmohan Singh entrusted him with the responsibility of talking to the Left parties during the nuclear deal with the U.S. in 2007. At one time, he was heading nearly 100 parliamentary committees and about 24 empowered Group of Ministers (GoMs) panels.

When Congress-led UPA government lost general elections in 2014 and the BJP-led NDA government came to power, the transition was overseen by him as the President. He enjoyed cordial and warm relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who often described Pranab-Da as his guide in the Capital. After winning a second term with massive majority in 2019, Mr Modi had called on Mr Mukherjee, then former President to seek his blessings. 

His father Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee was a freedom fighter and hailed from a village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district. Mr Mukherjee had pursued politics, history and law in Calcutta University. 

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