The memoir of the late Pranab Mukherjee, The Presidential Years, had created quite a stir with his rather unsavoury comments about Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Mukherjee’s son Abhishek Mukherjee had tried to stop publication of the book, in an attempt to prevent more damaging revelations.
But neither of the siblings have much of a legal say in the matter because the late Pranab Mukherjee himself had signed the contract with Rupa publications who had published his earlier books and he had also corrected the last edits of the manuscript with his own hands before he passed away on August 31 this year at the age of 84.
Sharmistha Mukherjee, Pranab’s daughter, had ticked off her brother for his attempt to stop publication of the book. Her confidence and authority in this matter derives from the fact that her father has also entrusted his diaries to her for future publication if she thought it fit to be published. This act itself showed that the former president had more faith and trust in his daughter.
Pranab used to make diary entries every day of his life for at least one hour before he went to bed and these copious notes could on its own be an intimate history of modern India.
Continuing her twitter tirade , Sharmistha wrote again as if to suggest that her brother alone is not the recipient of her father’s political legacy. “My dad always said political or intellectual legacies cannot be inherited, these need to be earned. I’m not in any race to fight for anything. I would rather be comfortable in my own shoes than be a misfit in my father’s enormous one,” she tweeted.
The former president also has two adopted children. His wife Suvra Mukherjee, who passed away in August 2015, belonged to Bangladesh and Pranab visited his wife’s house in Jessore for the first time in 2013. Suvra was a person of her own right and was a social and cultural activist who founded a famous dance troupe to perform Tagore’s works.
Suvra was also a social activist who, among other things, also worked hard for flood relief during the 1978 floods in Delhi. While helping people living on the banks of Yamuna, she found an abandoned child whom she brought home and then adopted. She believed that the gods had given her this little boy to make up for the death of the elder brother of Abhishek who had drowned as a young boy in Bengal.
Insiders say that it is not surprising that Pranab made the comments about Sonia and Manmohan being responsible for the 2014 defeat of the Congress. Pranab actually never forgave Sonia for choosing his junior Manmohan Singh to be the prime minister twice.
Pranab was finance minister when Manmohan Singh was RBI governor and used to call him “sir”, a practise which he continued after he became prime minister.
Pranab, however, told him not to call him “sir” since he was the PM. Pranab mentioned this to some journalists. As if to claim some big slice of history to himself, Pranab presented himself as a fait accompli to be President and Sonia did not object this time, as if to rid herself of some guilt, though there were other choices before the Congress at that time. Pranab had planted some stories hinting that he would like to be President.
Delhi’s political grapevine is agog with rumours about the sibling fallout and there are suggestions that the BJP will try to fish in troubled waters by trying to woo Sharmistha, who will be a huge catch.
Insiders say that Pranab himself was not too averse to the BJP during his last days and had chosen to address an RSS meeting in Nagpur just to send an angry message to the Congress. People close to the daughter say she has some thoughts which align with that of the BJP though Sharmistha herself has not publicly made any statements to suggest so and has been firmly on the Congress’ side. But her insistence that the book should be published is indication that she does not mind if Sonia is embarrassed hugely by the book. This is what Abhishek had tried to prevent, though he has no legal say in the matter since Pranab himself had given the book to Rupa.
This sibling fight over the book is not likely to end here since it is likely to create more dissent in the party and it will not be a surprise if Congress used Abhijeet to try to stop publication of the book by going to court. Though Sonia has never shown any inclination to go to court to stop criticism, the point now is that there is an active dissident group (G-23) within the Congress.
Still, there is a feeling that Pranab did not trust his two children to the extent that he should have, since he moved his finances to a foundation headed by Omita Paul, his very close and trusted officer who was with him for many years as secretary in all ministries he had held and also as secretary to the President.
Pranab was the Congress’ resident intellectual for many years and was always entrusted with drafting the manifesto and other important policy papers. His other books include The Coalition Years; The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi years; Thoughts and Reflections; and Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation.