Pranab Kumar Mukherjee titled the first volume of his autobiography ‘The Dramatic Decade’.
In the book, ‘The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years’, he says, “It was Indira who brought me up. No one else is responsible for what I am today.”
It is an adjective that fits perfectly with Pranab's political life, too – dramatic.
The turning point in Pranab Kumar Mukherjee's political career came in 1969 after V K Krishna Menon won in the Lok Sabha elections from Midnapore in West Bengal as an independent candidate. Indira Gandhi noticed the brilliant 34-year-old who had coordinated Menon's election campaign. She was so impressed that she took him to Delhi and made him a member of the Rajya Sabha.
In Delhi, Pranab Mukherjee grew beyond his identity as the son of freedom fighter and AICC member Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee. The label as Indira’s trusted ally in the corridors of Delhi politics strengthened his stature.
Indira made him a minister in 1973. Pranab remained loyal even when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency. (In later years, he was blamed for it).
The influence of mentor Indira was always evident in Pranab. He could be both affable and tough without hesitation.
The Congress was devastated when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984. In the midst of that tragedy, the party was worried about who would lead it from the throne that was occupied by the mighty leader. Many had Rajiv Gandhi on their mind. There were rumours inside and outside the party that Pranab was eyeing the Prime Minister’s post.
His seniority in the party and his already well-known leadership qualities made Pranab a good candidate. But Rajiv Gandhi became Indira's successor. The drama did not end there. Rajiv kept out of his cabinet the person who was first on the list of loyalists of his mother (and his, too). Pranab saw the swearing in of the new cabinet from his home with wife Suvra Mukherjee.
Pranab later denied allegations that he had coveted power. In his autobiography, he said that it was a fabrication of people who had wanted to create a rift between him and Rajiv.
Pranab, who distanced himself from the Congress following Rajiv's resentment, formed a new party — the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. But the party couldn’t grow much. He finally returned to the Congress in 1989. He later admitted that forming the party was a wrong decision.
When Narasimha Rao became the prime minister in 1991, he appointed Pranab as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.
The next drama was when the Congress returned to power at the Centre in 2004. The calculations that Sonia Gandhi would be the next prime minister went wrong.
Pranab’s chances increased when Sonia made it clear that she does not want to occupy the chair. Sonia, however, decided to make Manmohan Singh the prime minister. Pranab accepted the decision.
Manmohan Singh had himself later said that Sonia picked him to be the prime minister in UPA-I even though Pranab Mukherjee had all the credentials to be one.
In the Manmohan Singh government, Pranab became the defence minister and later the external affairs minister. Even in the UPA-II government, Pranab couldn't make it to the top post.
He became the President in 2012. When the first Narendra Modi government assumed power in 2014, Pranab’s chances of becoming the President for a second term became slim.
He made headlines again in 2018 when he visited the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. There was strong opposition from the Congress. Even daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee expressed her dissatisfaction with Pranab’s decision. Still, Pranab went to Nagpur. He described RSS founder K B Hedgewar as a 'great son of Mother India’, shocking the political establishment.
All through his political career, Pranab Mukherjee did not hesitate to say and do what seemed right to him, just like his political mentor Indira Gandhi.