Bharat Ratna and veteran politician, "Citizen Mukherjee" passed away at a hospital in New Delhi on Monday. He was 84.
The year was 2004, the month May and the time 3.45 am. Pranab Mukherjee returned to his Kolkata home after winning his first Lok Sabha election from Murshidabad in West Bengal to find jubilant supporters waiting to greet him, oblivious of the late hour. Mukherjee had lost the Lok Sabha elections twice earlier and it was third time lucky for him, much to the delight of the Congress leader’s supporters. The veteran leader, who went on to become India’s 13th president, recounted the anecdote in Rupa Publications’ ‘The Coalition Years’, which released in 2017 and throws light on his extensive political journey and experiences.
Narrating the events preceding his first Lok Sabha win, Mukherjee said in the book that he was himself unsure of victory. A five-time Rajya Sabha member, he had unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha elections twice from Malda in 1977 and from Bolpur in 1980. He did not contest any Lok Sabha elections thereafter until 2004, the year Congress came to power. In 1981, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat and got re-elected to the Upper House from West Bengal in 1993 and 1999. He wrote that it was Congress colleague Adhir Chowdhury, along with other local leaders, who insisted that he contest from Jangipur, a rural constituency.
“There were a number of reasons why I contested these elections. One was the fact that I wanted to follow the principle espoused by Nehruthat any Rajya Sabha member who becomes a minister should get himself elected to the Lok Sabha at the earliest opportunity. It is with this thought that I had contested earlier too,” Mukherjee wrote in the book.
“Two, since 1984, I had been the chairman of every national campaign committee. This raised the pertinent question, at least in my mind. should the chairman of the campaign committee himself not face the court of the people? Third, while this question was burdening my mind, the state Congress workers became increasingly vocal in their demand that I contest the elections,” he added.
Mukherjee said he was aware he might not win and Congress president Sonia Gandhi had assured him of re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha once his term expired. But he said he was determined to be third time lucky as he went campaigning village to village amid scorching heat.
Nobody, including myself, had the confidence that I would win in 2004. My opponent was Abul Hasnat Khan, a two-term CPI (M) MP with strong influence over the beedi workers of the area, who were a significant support base. After the exhaustive campaign, Mukherjee returned to Delhi. He came back to Mushidabad for the counting of votes but was told by his party chief, “You need not wait till you are sure you’ve lost; return immediately.”
The counting took place on May 13 and the results poured in quickly because of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). By 1 pm, everybody, including Mukherjee, knew he was going to win. The news of his lead and certain victory spread on the media, prompting congratulatory calls from party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel. Mukherjee was asked to return to Delhi soon but he told them he would reach there early the next morning as he was yet to receive his election victory certificate, according to the book.
“It so happened that I won by a margin of around 36,000 votes. The larger significance of it was that I had won from all seven Assembly segments. In one Assembly segment, my margin was only 1,900 and in another just 2,100 votes. But in the remaining five segments, it was 6,000-plus votes,” he wrote.
“As my Lok Sabha constituency was spread over three subdivisions, it was almost 9 pm by the time official results could be declared. As I had promised to return to Delhi immediately, I left for Kolkata the very same night after receiving the certificate. Somen Mitra was with me as he had come to Jangipur to witness the counting, he had also decided to return with me. We reached Kolkata around 3 a.m. and were at my residence at 3.45 a.m. Even at that unearthly hour, I found people waiting to greet me!” he added.
Mukherjee met with the supporters, rested a little and boarded an early morning flight to Delhi. “As soon as the plane took off, I went into deep slumber and did not wake up even after landing. The air hostess had to shake me vigorously to wake me up. I smiled at her half-asleep and deplaned. At my Delhi residence, there was a huge crowd as well. Many eminent people had also come to meet me. Eventually, I managed to take some rest and received a number of congratulatory calls,” he added.
Bharat Ratna and veteran politician, “Citizen Mukherjee” passed away at a hospital in New Delhi on Monday. He was 84.