Pranab Mukherjee

As always, it was left to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to perform an almost impossible parliamentary feat: insert a sense of political statesmanship in the Lokpal debate that restored the primacy of the government and House, while conceding the demands of Anna Hazare and the popular movement against corruption being waged here for the past 12 days.

Standing up to declare the resolution on Lokpal bill – that agreed on all three of Anna’s demands and was adopted by a thumping of desks but no voice vote – Mukherjee acknowledged that the government may have “bungled” but that it was on the job of trying to bring about a systemic change which could reduce corruption in the country. The three demands include an agreement on citizens’ charter, bringing lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal and setting up of Lokayuktas in states.

While lauding Parliament for raising the level of debate, Mukherjee had stern words for Team Anna. “To say that the government bill should be withdrawn and to burn it in public… this is not democratic behaviour,” he said. In a thinly veiled criticism of the deadlines issued by Team Anna, Mukherjee indignantly said, “there is a distinction between democracy and mobocracy.”

Although Mukherjee headed the first joint drafting committee with Team Anna in April, and even invited opprobrium by going to the airport to greet Baba Ramdev, he had been conspicuous by his absence in the initial days of Anna’s stir. It was Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Manish Tewari and other mid-level Congressmen who took the lead early on. That led to acrimonious exchanges between both sides, with a lot of harsh words being flung around. It showed the government in very poor light, which seemed to have misunderstood the pervasive anger in the nation, as perception gained that it was only Anna who was fighting corruption in the face of Centre’s resistance.

Things came to a head with the ill-advised arrest of Anna. It led the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley to observe in Parliament earlier this week that the government was sorely missing a strong political hand at the helm of affairs because the entire issue was being handled in a legal manner.

Over the last couple of days, Mukherjee engaged in a lot of plain speaking with Team Anna, where he disabused them of the notion that a Lokpal bill could be passed by Parliament by August 30, or that the government would withdraw its own bill.

Speaking in the House on Saturday, Mukherjee said the joint drafting committee set up in April had actually had 34 points of agreement and six points of difference when the talks collapsed. Elements of the Jan Lokpal bill are incorporated in the government version, and even on the points of difference, Mukherjee promised that these issues could be discussed in the standing committee.

“India is the largest democracy. It is a functional democracy,” Mukherjee said adding that it does not “necessarily follow the conventional way”.

While acknowledging the importance of the anti-graft fight, he observed in Parliament that several reforms are underway: the UID that would be rolled out over the next couple of years, more widespread utilization of the PAN number and the general sales tax whenever that is passed.

Citing an example, Mukherjee said even in the finance ministry, income tax refunds, which used to be a source of huge corruption and popular harassment, had reduced after technology was introduced.

Son of Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee and Rajlakshmi Mukherjee, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, born on 11th December, 1935 in a small village, Mirati of Birbhum District in West Bengal. Kamada K Mukherjee was a respected freedom fighter spent more than 10 years in British jails. Pranab’s father was an active member of Indian National Congress and was also a member of West Bengal Legislative Council from 1952 to 1964. So, it was quite obvious that K K Mukherjee’s son Shri Pranab Mukherjee would join active politics following his father’s foot-steps, after brief career in academic world (after obtaining masters degree in Political Science and History and degree of Law from Calcutta University, he joined as a professor in a college of Birbhum District of West Bengal).

Shri Pranab Mukherjee’s parliamentary career begun as a Rajya Sabha member from Congress Party in 1969. Thereafter, he re-elected in 1975, 1981, 1993, and 1999. His ministerial career begun in 1973 as the Deputy Minister, Industrial Development. After that he hardly looked back. When he was the Finance Minister of India during 1982 to 1984, Euromoney Magazine rated him as the best Finance Minister of the world. Thereafter, barring a brief period, Shri Mukherjee, served the country as a cabinet Minister, more or less in every National Congress Ministry, At present, he is the External Affairs Mnister of Dr.Manmohan Singh’s cabinet and as a senior member of the Ministry, he is consulted by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh before taking any major decision regarding welfare of the country and his valuable comments and suggestions made him practically indispensable.

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