Pranab Mukherjee always considered Bangladesh with love and good wishes
The birth of an independent Bangladesh remains the ‘most significant’ event in my long public life”-- former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said in an interview with The Times of India in 2017. That was the view of Pranab Mukherjee about Bangladesh, who passed away at a hospital in New Delhi on August 31.
To me, he was a remarkable politician of the subcontinent, the most successful Bengali in post-independence all-India politics, and a genuine friend of Bangladesh, a son-in-law of our Narail. He was the first Bengali president -- known as “Chanakya” in all-India politics -- a Congress party politician, and a statesman.
According to Dhaka Tribune, before serving as president between 2012 and 2017, he held several important portfolios during his 51-year political career, including the finance, foreign, and defense ministries. The Bangladesh government declared Wednesday a day of mourning in honour of him. The national flag will be flown half-mast that day.
Today, as I look at Mukherjee’s entire political career, his long political journey has become the brightest.
Pranab Mukherjee has been a true friend since the birth of Bangladesh. This friendship started with the liberation war of 1971. As a young member of the Rajya Sabha, he became vocal in gaining the recognition of Bangladesh’s expatriate government from the government of India. Through this, he became involved in a genuine bond with the people of Bangladesh.
In the first of his autobiographical series, The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, he wrote an entire chapter entitled “Liberation War: The Making of Bangladesh.” In that chapter, he discussed how the Liberation War of Bangladesh was one of the big reasons for his debut in national politics.
Indira Gandhi was attracted to his talent and took him into Congress, and used him as her number two, leaving behind other prominent leaders. Bangladesh honoured Pranab Mukherjee for his contribution in the Liberation War in 1971. His support for our Liberation War in 1971 was for humanity, and justice gave us courage and motivation.
The 47th convocation of Dhaka University was held in 2013. It was also an impeccable addition to convocation history. The keynote speaker of the convocation was the erstwhile president of India Pranab Mukherjee, who delivered the first convocation speech in full Bengali for the first time at the convocation of Dhaka University.
On that day, he said in an emotional tone, “For me personally, this is an emotional journey. I have my roots in Bangladesh’s soil and have imbibed its language, traditions, and culture as my wife was born in Narail and started her education here. When I was a child, I never dreamt that one day I would come here as the president of my country. India and Bangladesh are interlinked like no other nations on earth. Our destinies are interwoven just like our history and our geography.” Thus, he was, in the real sense, a Bengali to the core.
He has written eight books in the light of his colourful experience. The latest book, published in 2017, also discusses the release of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia during the 2008 military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh and his role in restoring stability in Bangladesh. However, his acceptance in the political arena of the subcontinent outside the Congress in India also gave him a special status in politics.
His role in South Asian politics was noteworthy. SAARC was then wholly ineffective due to the India-Pakistan conflict. But in 2008, Pranab Mukherjee became India’s foreign minister and wanted to see SAARC as an effective body.
When the SAARC Summit was held in Delhi in April 2006, his enterprising role as foreign minister was well known.
On top of that conference, emphasis was given on enhancing inter-regional connectivity and people-to-people contacts between South Asian countries. He became a great teacher because of his knowledge, talent, wisdom, and strategy in global politics.
Pranab Mukherjee was a legendary politician of the subcontinent. He always considered Bangladesh with love and good wishes. In his words, “To my mind, it is Bangladesh, the birth of a nation of 12 or 13 crore people in 1971.”
In India, he was probably the last person in terms of gentleman politicians, regardless of party affiliation. Forgetting parties and colours, everyone would go to him for advice on resolving political crises. His death marks the end of an era.
Md Jahid Hashan is a post-graduate student at the Department of Political Science, the University of Dhaka.