Book on Pranab’s diaries
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Book on Pranab’s diaries

February 19, 2024

By Dr. C.D. Sreenivasa Murthy

Title:      Pranab My Father: A  Daughter Remembers

Author:  Sharmistha Mukherjee

Year:       2024

Pages:   368 pages

Price:     Rs. 795

Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

A boy aged 11 years had come to Calcutta to attend the wedding of his eldest brother. The day was 16th August 1946, an infamous day in India’s history. Probably the worst communal riots in Bharat took place on that day, incited by the call for direct action given by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan. The family could not return to their village for several days till it was safe to travel.

The boy was restless. Someone handed him a notebook and a pencil to keep him occupied and asked him to write down his daily observations. This practice of chronicling his daily life and impressions every night after his hectic work schedule continued for over 70 years.

This young boy, Pranab Mukherjee, went on to become a six-term MP and a Minister for 23 years holding various high-profile portfolios of External Affairs, Commerce, Finance and Defence. The habit of diary writing continued throughout his busy life schedule.

When he retired after a full term of five years as the President of India in 2017, his diaries were 53 big volumes. These were handed to his daughter Sharmistha for safekeeping, with strict instructions to open and read them only after he had breathed his last.

Sharmistha has published the book ‘Pranab My Father: A Daughter Remembers,’  based on the late President’s diaries. The book is also partly biography and personal memoirs. It is also a chronicle of the political story of his times. The desire to publish the diaries posthumously is understandable as they have many frank and unflattering remarks about his contemporary political figures.

Mamata Banerjee was a long-time family friend of Pranab. She would frequently visit their house and often dine with them. Yet she vehemently opposed when Pranab was nominated for President of India. When Sharmistha asks about the strange behaviour of Mamata, her father’s philosophical comment is that she is always unpredictable. Eventually, the West Bengal CM changed her stance and supported Pranab Mukherjee for the Presidency.

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Pranab was a lifelong staunch Congress party man. He was a protege of Indira Gandhi and he always looked up to her as his mentor. He was a stickler for rules, procedures and constitutional propriety. Surprisingly, his diary entries seem to be silent on the Emergency imposed by his leader. Probably, for whatever reasons, he had made his peace with the excesses of Emergency and his inner voice.

Despite his fanatic loyalty to Indira and the party, he had to face the ignominy of being suspended from the party by her son, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This suspension he attributes to machinations of the coterie around Rajiv. After about two years, he was reinstated in the party due to the efforts of his friends.

He mentions sycophancy culture and the absence of dissent in the party and general political discourse. Sharmistha sought her father’s advice about leaving the Congress party after her defeat in the Delhi elections, his answer was cryptic. He asked her to remember the sentence from the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Swadharme Nidhanam Shreyah’. (It is better to perish in your dharma), cryptically advising her not to change her swadharma which is the Congress party.

Like any ambitious politician, Pranab had his ups and downs in his political career. In one of his diary notings, he writes a political activist should always be alert, always active and develop objectivity, most importantly the ability to absorb disappointments is necessary.

His comments about Sonia Gandhi and her family are quite frank and acerbic. He tells his daughter that Sonia will never allow him to become the Prime Minister because there is a trust deficit between them. Again he ascribes this to the clique surrounding her. He is critical of Rahul Gandhi for publicly tearing the ordinance promulgated by the Manmohan Singh Government.

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His sarcastic comment is that Rahul has the arrogance of the Nehru-Gandhi family, without their political acumen. When Pranab was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, the first family members were conspicuously absent at the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Pranab Mukherjee spent most of his public life in the Parliament, both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. He had a deep understanding of the Parliamentary procedures and the Indian Constitution. He had many friends across the aisle in all the Opposition parties. He administered the oath of office to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi in 2014.

Both had risen from diverse backgrounds. Modi was a committed RSS person having risen from a Pracharak to the high office of Pradhan Mantri. Pranab Mukherjee was a die-hard Congressman having risen from a Cabinet Minister to the high office of Rashtrapati.

Surprisingly the PM and the President had great bonhomie in their relationship. It is said, the PM always touched his (Pranab) feet whenever he came to meet the President. Modi reciprocated this friendship by conferring the nation’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna on him. When President Pranab accepted the invitation to be the chief guest at RSS annual meet, Congress party urged him not to attend.

His daughter Sharmistha too dissuaded him and told her father that by attending the event he was giving legitimacy to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). His reply was, “Who am I to give legitimacy when people of this country have given it by electing a humble Pracharak of RSS to the highest political office of the nation.” The book, brimming with filial adoration, has many explosive comments, well-written with candour and appears a teaser for publication of the full transcripts of the diaries. The volume reminds us of the political landscape of those times and is eminently readable and unputdownable.


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