Having been actively involved in public life these past 50 years, Pranab Mukherjee was pragmatic enough to know that there would be few takers for any sermon delivered when descending the political pulpit. Instead, those years of experience conditioned him to reach out where it mattered ~ the soul of the Indian people, among whom he would be proud to henceforth be known as just another “citizen”.
Yet it was no soft, sentimental and syrupy offering that marked his departure from high office. In his earlier years he was something of a parliamentary firebrand, he proved that the “spark” had not deserted him, for he was forceful (yet graceful) when laying stress on what he deemed the essence of Indian democracy.
Terms like “pluralism”, “tolerance” and “inclusive” do not easily roll off the tongues of those presently calling the political shots, but he did not back off and sought to impress upon the leaders that they were duty-bound to promote the ideals of the Constitution ~ his sacred scripture ever since he attained the Presidency.
That he had did not delve into controversial “specifics” only enhanced the spirituality of his swansong. Not the he ducked the uncomfortable: at a time when vigilantes are unleashing violence in the guise of noble sentiments, Mukherjee regretted that “every day, we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust. Only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of the people. Power of non-violence has to be resurrected to build a compassionate and caring society.”
Similarly, his take on unrest on the campus was elevating: “Our education system must accept disruption as a norm, and prepare our students to manage and build upon the disruptions. Our universities should not be a place for rote-memorising but an assembly of inquisitive minds. Creative thinking, innovation and scientific temper have to be promoted. It calls for application of logic through discussion, argument and analysis…and autonomy of mind has to be encouraged.”
He proceeded to call for the economic and social uplifting of the masses, growth had to be inclusive. There was, indeed, so much of note to his farewell address.
His overall effect was not to provoke, rather to inspire fresh thinking that deemed success in terms more precious than election results. What has been most remarkable about Mukherjee’s tenure in Rashtrapati Bhawan has been his rising above himself.
A section of critics had initially suggested he was getting the “kick upstairs” to ensure a smooth transition of power in the Congress party: he was least bothered, proceeded to “grow with the job”, soon dwarfing all political counterparts. And in doing so he set out a demanding yardstick against which his successor will be constantly measured.