Lt Pranab Mukherjee opened up Rashtrapati Bhavan to the people of India, says daughter Sharmistha
Kolkata: Late President Pranab Mukherjee’s latest book The Presidential Years: 2012-17 was launched at a virtual session of Kitaab by panelists British politician and economist, Lord Meghnad Desai, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, economist and former top civil servant, and Sharmistha Mukherjee, politician and daughter of Lt President, organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation and presented by Shree Cement. Malika Varma of Ehsaas Woman of Kolkata introduced the session which was conducted by journalist, director and film critic, Ratnottama Sengupta.
Recounting her experience as a resident of iconic Rashtrapati Bhavan with her father Lt Pranab Mukherjee, Sharmistha said, “It was a great honour and opportunity to be the 13th family at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. My father’s love and passion was history and for him every corner of Rashtrapati Bhavan was full of history; every stone told a story. So one of the first things he did was to document all the art works and renovate the priceless library and created a museum for Rashtrapati Bhavan by collaborating with curators, historians, art historians, librarians – restoring the place to its full glory. It was a great opportunity to relive the rich history of the place.”
“He (Lt Pranab Mukherjee) also opened up a large section to Bhavan to the people of India and made it people-friendly by starting the artist-residential centre where he would invite the scholars, the artistes, the writers, the young innovators and scientists so that they could also come and become a part of the history – learn, understand and appreciate the place,” she added.
Lord Meghnad Desai joined in from London, said, “The arrival of BJP in 2014 was the biggest political earthquake. Pranab Mukherjee had a career spanning 48-years and when he became the President he had a novice Prime Minister who had a lot to learn and he could guide the prime minister because he had already been with one in his tenure and he carried it out beautifully. In the annals of Indian presidency you don’t have anyone with that range of contacts and cabinet positions. He knew the ways the government worked. He was a complete master of details.”
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said, “Pranab Mukherjee maintained propriety and gave advice when asked. My personal experience with him, when I interacted with him on a flight sitting next to him when he was not in office and I was a civil servant. For the next hour-and-half I had one of the most fascinating and illuminating discussions with someone who had lived that history. He used his knowledge of details to make things come alive precisely in the areas I was talking about.”
The recently published The Presidential Years: 2012–2017 is Late Pranab Mukherjee’s final book in the four-book series namely The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, The Turbulent Years: 1980 – 1996 and The Coalition Years: 1996 – 2012. He had, in all, penned ten books covering economy, politics, political history and personal memoirs.
Commenting on mercy petitions, Sharmistha said, “On mercy petitions, the President is the last hope. The modern justice system is more towards reform than punishment. From that perspective President is the last hope and one signature determines the future of others. My father said he could not sleep at nights it was a difficult call but he never sat on a decision and felt that if the judicial system had given the decision he would go with the government.”
Kitaab is an initiative of Kolkata-based organization Prabha Khaitan Foundation which provides a forum for book launches by connecting intellectuals, book lovers and litterateurs with authors. Eminent authors like Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Sampath, Salman Khurshid, Kunal Basu, Vir Sanghvi, Vikas Jha, Luke Coutinho, Prem Prakash, Meghnad Desai, Anupam Kher and others have earlier had book launching sessions at Kitaab.