Person of the Week: Pranab Mukherjee


Person of the Week: Pranab Mukherjee

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

In a week that saw a new Rajinikanth movie release, we were mildly surprised to note that a majority of the entertainment came from a former President. Pranab Mukherjee, it turns out, doesn’t rely on flipping bikes, or using one bullet to kill three bad guys for his cheers, but walks straight into the belly of the beast and cuts his way out with a sword.

This Thursday, Mukherjee ignored advice from haters, well-wishers, and his own daughter, to attend an event at the RSS headquarters, displaying some of that good old presidential resolve. Social media “influencers”, who have a point of view on everything from the name of baby to a ridiculous audio clip , was quick to pounce. Did this mean Mukherjee was joining the RSS? Was he finally giving up on the Congress? Is he going to do the RSS salute and can I Snapchat it?

None of that happened unless you fell for the morphed photo of Mukherjee with the RSS cap doing the rounds. But in a sense the former president did for the RSS event what the prime minister did a couple of years ago for Photoshop – he took something inconsequential, and turned it into a media darling. So for this reason, Pranab Mukherjee is our Person of Week. Take an oath of office and round up the army, because this party just got presidential.

You know you’re a true statesmen when you can deliver an hour-long speech that is broadcast and published by the media across the nation, and still give no hint of what side you’re on.

Immediately after Mukherjee accepted the RSS invite, both sides of the political spectrum were triggered. The more liberal voices, typically, cancelled friendship with Pranab da, and found a new best friend in his daughter, Sharmistha. The more RSS-leaning voices, saw this as the most defining moment since Sita was asked to take the agnipariksha. But the speech that was delivered in the end was so shocking neutral, it managed to appease both sides.

The Congress and its flunkies were happy because Pranab da reminded the Modi government of “Rajdharma”, aka non-violence, and were also kicked that the PM was asked to look into the “unchecked exercise of authority and attack on institutions”.

Their excitement was made evident by this wholly over-the-top reply from a Congress spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala:

“Let the RSS and the BJP publicly commit today to change its character, orientation, thought process and path and accept the sagacious advice of their guest Pranab Mukherjee. It is time for (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer. We await a reply.”

Wow. Need to get this guy to write me a CV.

Meanwhile, the other side of the political spectrum too thought of the speech as personal victory. First they had another reason to talk about how secular the RSS is, because a former president wouldn’t have attended otherwise. Then they got super excited because he praised K B Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS – a man who refers to Muslims as “foreign snakes”, and an organisation which Pranab Mukherjee has been a part of banning twice. It took just one speech, but Pranab Mukherjee went from “Kangressi slave” to Shri Greatly Respected Highly Esteemed Pranab Mukherjee Da, the Partyless.

You know you’re a true statesmen when you can deliver an hour-long speech that is broadcast and published by the media across the nation, and still give no hint of what side you’re on. In this heavily polarised political landscape, we tend to look at the opposition as OPPOSITION, one that must not be engaged with unless it’s with a hearty dose of snark, and superiority. But Pranab Mukherjee did just the opposite. He avoided pressure from all sides, risked becoming a right-wing meme, and opened dialogue with an organisation that – like it or not – has tremendous influence over what happens in this country.

This week, Pranab Da has come one step closer to ensuring that all writers of history will remember him fondly.