Pranab Mukherjee, former President of India and an illustrious politician who scaled beyond party lines and divide to help build the nation, was always “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, as the cover of the 1986 Illustrated Weekly proclaimed, though mischievously, as the interview with Pritish Nandy cost him his position in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet. “Little did I know that he (Nandy) was out to make mischief,” Mukherjee later admitted in his three-volume memoirs.
Mischievously or otherwise, the fact remains that Mukherjee was always the man who knew too much, and he suffered politically for that. Rajiv Gandhi dropped him from his Cabinet in 1986. P.V. Narasimha Rao didn’t include him in his own in 1991. Sonia Gandhi didn’t make him the Prime Minister and instead chose the pliable Manmohan Singh for the job in 2004. And later again when his name came up for the presidential position, she vetoed it, saying the UPA government needed his experience!
But that never stopped him from being a dependable friend, ally and colleague. It shows his stature that a Prime Minister from the BJP (Narendra Modi) proposed his name for the country’s topmost position. Maybe that was the irony: his own often disowned him, whether his own party or the CM of his own state, Mamata Banerjee, who went out of the way to block his presidential candidacy. But that never made Pranab da leave his ideals.
A classic example is the way he stood by Indira Gandhi when she lost the elections in 1977. He remained an unwavering loyalist even when most of her supporters were deserting what they thought was a sinking ship. He chose to stand by her when she was arrested seven months after her “iron grip” over the country was smashed by a ballot. He remained one of the few who believed in her comeback when many had already written her off.
Yet, none of this stopped him from telling the truth: that the 21-month Emergency, imposed by Indira on 25 June 1975, was a “misadventure” and an “avoidable event” for which both the party and Mrs Gandhi had to pay a heavy price.
In the first volume of his memoir, The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, he revealed how Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the then chief minister of Bengal, was the one who advised to go the unconstitutional way. “It was his suggestion, and Indira Gandhi acted on it,” recalled Mukherjee. Ironically, it was Ray who took the lead to testify against Mrs Gandhi before the Shah Commission, instituted to look into the excesses perpetrated during the Emergency era.
Pranab da recalled that, when deposing before the Shah Commission, Ray had run into Mrs Gandhi — draped in a crimson sari that day — and tossed a sprightly remark: “You look pretty today”. “Despite your efforts”, retorted a curt Indira Gandhi.
The following are edited excerpts from Pranab Mukherjee’s three-volume memoirs, published by Rupa publications:
Getting dropped from the Rajiv Cabinet for an interview
The results of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections were declared on 24 December 1984. The Congress swept the polls, winning 404 seats out of 514, while the BJP got only 2 seats… On the morning of 31 December 1984, Rajiv was elected leader of the CPP at 11 am in a meeting held in the Central Hall of Parliament. I chaired the meeting and stood next to him when he announced to the media that the swearing-in would be held at 3 p.m. Even then I was clueless about the manner in which the day would unfold.
I kept waiting for the call. Being dropped from Rajiv’s Cabinet was not even peripherally in my mind. I had heard no rumours, nor had anyone in the party ever vaguely hinted at it. As it happened, P.V. Narasimha Rao, too, was on tenterhooks, calling me several times to check if I had received a call.
When I learnt of my ouster from the Cabinet, I was shellshocked and flabbergasted. I could not believe it. But I composed myself, and sat alongside my wife as she watched the swearing-in ceremony on television. As soon as it concluded, I wrote to the Ministry of Urban Development asking to be allotted a smaller house in place of my 2 Jantar Mantar residence (which was a ministerial allocation), pointing out that I had ceased to be a minister—this was something I had done in 1977, too. I then went off on a holiday with my family who had long suffered my neglect.
Another person who got axed was Ghani Khan Choudhury, my compatriot from West Bengal.
In March 1985, Rajiv gave an interview to Sunday magazine:
Q. When you formed your first government, after the elections, why were people like Pranab Mukherjee and Ghani Khan Chowdhury dropped?
A. Well, we really wanted to give a bit of a new look, try and get things moving a bit.
Q. But, seriously, why was Pranab Mukherjee dropped? I grant you the privilege of retaining only those you trust and can work with, but the dropping of a finance minister is clearly a serious matter. I cannot but ask this question.
A: The Finance Ministry was not run tightly enough. I thought we needed a change. The Finance Minister has to be very tough. He can’t be goody-goody. I don’t think he [Mukherjee] was tough enough.
When Sonia chooses Manmohan over Pranab
It was left to her (Sonia Gandhi) to choose the prime minister. There was intense speculation in the party and the media about her choice. Within the Congress party, the consensus was that the incumbent must be a political leader with experience in party affairs and administration. Finally, she named Dr Manmohan Singh as her choice and he accepted.
The prevalent expectation was that I would be the next choice for prime minister after Sonia Gandhi declined. This expectation was possibly based on the fact that I had extensive experience in government, while Singh’s vast experience was as a civil servant with five years as a reformist finance minister. The media speculation and frenzy began. Some media commentators reported that I would not join the government because I could not work under Manmohan Singh, who had been my junior when I was the finance minister. The fact was that I was reluctant to join the government, and informed Sonia Gandhi accordingly. She, however, insisted that I should join the government since I would be vital to its functioning, and also be of support to Dr Singh. As it turned out, Dr Singh would talk to me on all important issues and seemed to depend on me. We shared a good working relationship.
Sonia again vetoes presidential proposal
The latter half of the budget session of 2007 witnessed much speculation in political circles about the choice of the presidential candidate. The incumbent A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was due to retire in July that year. Around May-June, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh began discussions with our coalition partners about the prospective presidential candidate. I am told that my name was proposed by the Left parties first and then seconded by others. However, the final decision was left to the Congress party. Sonia Gandhi called me and said, ‘Your name is being suggested by some political parties as the presidential candidate, but it would be difficult for us to spare you as you are a strong pillar of the party in the government and in the Parliament.’ I told her that the decision was for her to take, and I would abide by it. Sometime later, Prakash Karat came to my residence and informed me of his discussion with Sonia Gandhi on the issue of the presidential candidate. He mentioned that she had ruled out my name citing a number of reasons, including the fact that she did not have a substitute for me as the leader in the Lok Sabha, and could not spare me from the ministry. Further, my experience and knowledge about party matters was crucial for her as the Congress president. I understood, and reconciled myself to the situation.
Pratibha Devisingh Patil was chosen as the UPA-I candidate for the presidential election. She won by a huge majority defeating Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
Mamata’s roadblock to Rashtrapati Bhavan
Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav expressed their parties’ support — Mayawati at a press conference in Delhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow. In the meantime, L.K. Advani tried to persuade Jayalalithaa not to support P.A. Sangma, but to support Kalam instead, in which case the chances of winning the election would be higher. However, this strategy came to nought as Kalam, at a press conference on 18 June, declared that he was not in the race. But Mamata Banerjee persevered, and tried to persuade him. In fact, she organised a rally of her party workers and legislators in Kolkata to mobilise public sentiment in favour of Kalam. In this way she hoped to urge Kalam to reconsider his decision and put pressure on the political spectrum to consider Kalam as a candidate of the people. Perhaps all this was the result of her expectations not being met by me as the finance minister. Mamata Banerjee had been unhappy with me for quite some time. She seemed to be under the misconception that I was deliberately not meeting her demand for a waiver of the outstanding loan to the government of West Bengal, which had accumulated during the Left Front rule. She had also been demanding a moratorium of five years for the current debts. She expected me to fulfil these demands as the finance minister. On several occasions, I had explained to her that total debt moratorium was not possible, for every state has a debt burden. I assured her that the 13th Finance Commission had made some recommendations for providing relief to debt-burdened states. While most states accepted and implemented the recommendations, West Bengal had not — and as a result, the state could not get full relief. I also reminded her that I had helped West Bengal. I had explained the details of the financial package to her Finance Minister, Amit Mitra. I do not know what he conveyed to her but she remained dejected, frustrated and angry with me.
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‘If you want a change, choose me’ : Tharoor on Congress president poll
In the upcoming presidential election of the grand old party, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor reiterated on Saturday that his contest against senior party member Mallikarjun Kharge “is not a battle.” Following days of turmoil surrounding the intra-party troubles in Rajasthan, Tharoor and Kharge finally submitted their nominations for the crucial elections, which are set for October 17, on Friday.
“This is not a war. We can belong to different schools of thoughts. Let the members decide,” Tharoor told news agency ANI in an interview on Saturday. “All I am telling the members is that if you’re satisfied with the functioning of the party, please vote for Kharge Sahab. But if you want a change, choose me.. If you want the party to function differently.”
His remarks came as news spread that the Gandhis were endorsing the 80-year-old Kharge for the top party position. On Saturday, Kharge announced his resignation as the opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, a day after more than 30 leaders surprised many by end-of-nomination support for his candidacy. In contrast, Tharoor was not accompanied by as many senior leaders.
“But there is no ideological problem here. Whatever the message has so far of the Congress will continue to remain,” Shashi Tharoor said on Saturday, dismissing any differences.
Even though the Gandhis made it clear that they would no longer be running for president post, their management has continued to draw criticism. Regarding the family’s importance for the party in light of the BJP’s dynastic politics allegations.
As ‘Bharat Jodo’ enters Karnataka, rattled BJP gives front-page ad that distorts history: Jairam Ramesh
As Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra entered the BJP-ruled state, according to Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Saturday, the BJP placed a front page advertisement in a Kannada newspaper. Ramesh said in a tweet, “The advertisement mischievously distorts history as usual. Savarkar propounded two-nation theory & Jinnah ensured it got done. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of Jan Sangh championed partition of Bengal.” BJP is rattled by the yatra’s success, the Congress leader continued.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi entered the election-bound state of Karnataka on Friday. There, the yatra will travel 511 kilometres across seven districts in 21 days.
Rahul Gandhi remarked in a statement at the beginning of the march’s Kerala leg that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is the voice of the nation and that no one can stop it.
“Entire control is lying with the (Central) government. If we speak in Parliament, they shut our microphones,” Rahul Gandhi said.
A new Rahul Gandhi and a new Congress party have emerged from the Bharat Jodo Yatra which forced the BJP and the RSS on the backfoot, Jairam Ramesh said on Friday. “People asked who is ‘thodoing’ (breaking) Bharat for Congress to do Bharat Jodo, our answer is Mr Modi’s ideology, policies, personality is thodoing Bharat. Because economic inequality is increasing, social polarisation is increasing and political over-centralisation is increasing, the Congress is doing this yatra,” Jairam Ramesh said.
IIFA weekend and awards is back by popular demand
The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Weekend & Awards, which brings together the very best of the Indian film industry, is back by popular demand in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, in February 2023 to win our hearts all over again! IIFA 2023 will be held in collaboration with the Department of Culture and Tourism-Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and Miral, Abu Dhabi’s leading creator of immersive destinations and experiences.
The comeback of the 22nd edition of IIFA this year at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, hosted by superstar Salman Khan, Riteish Deshmukh, and Maniesh Paul, featured electrifying performances by the finest talent from the Indian film fraternity, leaving us in awe with three memorable, star-studded days with packed venues filled by fans from all around the globe. The three-day awards weekend was attended by more than 350 media from 17 countries across the globe, and more than 20,000 people thronged the arena.
Back by popular demand from stakeholders, fans, and media from around the globe, the 23rd edition of IIFA will again be hosted at the world-class Etihad Arena, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi—the Middle East’s largest state-of-the-art indoor entertainment venue in February 2023. The upcoming edition will be filled with even more magic and entertainment as we are set to witness Salman Khan, Varun Dhawan, Karan Johar, Kriti Sanon, and many more in attendance.
For many decades, India and Abu Dhabi have had strong cultural and commercial ties. IIFA Weekend & Awards will be a celebration of togetherness and positivity, returning to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi and enhancing, strengthening, and building even stronger bonds. IIFA 2023 will be a grand celebration of the best talent in Indian cinema, bringing together global dignitaries, international media, fans, and film enthusiasts worldwide. To present a greater opportunity for long-term impact in tourism, business & trade, and the film production business for the destination.
Noreen Khan, Vice President of IIFA, said, “IIFA this year was an amazing experience thanks to the wonderful partners Miral and DCT. Coming after two years, we really worked hard to deliver the very best of live entertainment again. The best part was that the entire weekend delivered a positive experience to everyone who witnessed or experienced the event in any way. We have been inundated with unprecedented appreciation and comments from everyone who truly had a wonderful time this year in Abu Dhabi, and so we are pleased and excited to bring it all back again, but with much more magic to come next year”.
With excitement increasing all over the world, people can now buy tickets to the biggest awards ceremony spanning over three days at https://www.etihadarena.ae/en/ from the 30 September 2022. The price range begins from 100 AED going up to 1500 AED.
Home to magical adventures, awe-inspiring entertainment, three globally renowned theme parks, outstanding motorsports, an award-winning golf venue, and world-class hospitality services, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is a destination like nowhere else.
Over 30 machines pressed into service to beautify Dal Lake
The Dal Lake, a popular tourist attraction in Jammu and Kashmir, is all set to get a facelift and breathe again as authorities appear determined this time to remove the weeds engulfing a large part of the lake.
For the first time in several years, the Jammu and Kashmir Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) has pressed into service over two dozen machines to remove the weeds.
“There are two types of weeds. One is being controlled due to the presence of some species, and the other is being removed completely,” said LCMA Vice-Chairman Bashir Ahmad Bhat.
Bhat said the one being removed completely had covered an area of 6.5 sq km and this process is likely to be completed by November this year.
To control the sewerage, the houseboats are being connected for the first time to the sewer line. “Around 920 houseboats will be connected to sewerage lines,” he said, adding that such a process will help keep the water body clean.
The Indian art of giving away
There are ways and means to give and support, to care and to help. We must trust and believe, open our hearts and minds and do only as much as we wish to, or even nothing at all.
Indians are not well known for their philanthropy, except when it comes to religion. But there are exceptions, and large ones. The Azim Premji Foundation is the best known, supporting causes ranging from Gender Justice to Constitutional Values and Democracy. Tata Trusts have been in the limelight in recent times, more for the upheaval at the top than for the work they do as one of the oldest philanthropic organisations in India, providing support and funding for sports, education, livelihood and so much more. A lesser known but equally prolific charitable organisation is the Reliance Foundation, known for its sports development programmes, arts, culture, and heritage programs, and so much more.
These big organisations are not alone. Almost every family-run organisation has a foundation that supports a myriad of social initiatives. All MNCs, public companies, and smaller companies also participate actively, as part of a mandatory CSR spend requirement by the Government of India.
Mandatory or not, almost all of these organisations support social welfare, finding ways to both fund NGOs and get their employee base involved in development sector initiatives as volunteers.
When it comes to individual giving, however, the story is quite different. In a recent study conducted by the Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University, 87% of households surveyed donated during the peak of the pandemic – 2020 and 2021. However, 70% of giving was directed towards religious organizations. A further 12% went to beggars, 9% to extended family and friends, and a paltry 5% to NGOs and other charitable organizations. As a comparison, in the US, 27% of charitable contributions in 2021 went to religious organizations, the remaining to a variety of social services.
So why don’t individuals give? Preeti Kher Dulat, a fifty-something ex-banker, began working with an organisation called Deeds for Needs, raising funds as needed right when Covid began. She says, “I have sent out an appeal and always get more than I asked for.” She also says that she only reaches out to people she knows. Preeti’s experience is that there is scepticism among people about where the contribution is going. “Where religion is involved, people think the money will be used properly, even though they have no idea what’s happening to that money,” she says.
It is only in recent times that people in India are experiencing a feeling of abundance, of having more than they can use. The older generations are still hoarding, saving for a rainy day, saving for retirement, and other commonly quoted claims. They are not wrong in feeling the way they do. Their instincts have been honed over a long time, when salaries were miniscule, taxes on businesspeople were sometimes as high as 90%, and goods and services as basic as a phone line were only possible with a bribe and long waiting periods. The fact that there is a massive disparity in income across the country is something that neither strikes nor bothers many people.
Yet, Preeti can collect thousands and even lakhs of rupees from people who are distant from their causes but not from their faith in Preeti.
Parul Vaidya is the CEO of the Pune Chapter of Social Venture Partners (SVP), a foundational program for current and aspiring philanthropists. SVP connects donors, non-profits, and social enterprises for greater impact, together. Parul says, ‘People who have the capacity to give should.’ She says that she has never been apologetic about asking people to join SVP and contribute. It is our moral responsibility to do something before more people go the wrong way. “How long can we think that the pain and despair are not going to come to our house?” “How long can we think about the petty theft and other crimes that people with no regular livelihood sometimes resort to?”
Parul is of the mind that a ‘giving nature’ is increasing in our society, that increasingly, people want to give, to help but don’t know how to. But she also admits that one of the main reasons individuals don’t give to NGOs is because there is a deep-rooted scepticism about such organizations, primarily because most of the reporting about NGOs is about things gone wrong. No one talks about NGOs that are doing excellent work, improving lives, even saving lives. Much of that has to do with the fact that NGOs don’t market enough, most don’t have the skills to do so. Moreover, positive and uplifting stories rarely make it through the thick fog of accusatory wrongdoing.
So, what do people who want to make a difference but don’t have a Preeti or a Parul in their lives do? There are other ways to contribute. Those ruled more by the head than the heart can invest in companies operating in the social sector instead of funding NGOs. There is good work being done by start-ups in the fields of education, healthcare, and mental health. Unfortunately,some causes, such as those related to support for the disabled, cannot be run as social enterprises, they run exclusively on donations and grants.
In recent times, governments around the world have turned to Social Stock Exchanges – a way to raise capital for the development sector. They have also begun piloting Social Impact Bonds, a private-public partnership to provide outcome-based funding for public welfare projects. These innovative concepts are in their early stages, and it remains to be seen whether they will provide the development sector the support it needs while making it easier for people to make a difference.
There are ways and means to give and support, to care and to help. We must trust and believe, open our hearts and minds and do only as much as we wish to, or even nothing at all.
Priya Hajela is the author of Ladies’ Tailor, published by Harper Collins India.
Raj Kundra writes to CBI claiming innocence in porn case
Raj Kundra, Shilpa Shetty’s husband, approached the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to claim his innocence in the pornography case in which he was arrested last year. Raj expanded on his letter to the central agency on Twitter and wrote, “A handful of corrupt individuals spoil the name of the whole organisation. It’s just a matter of time now! #CBI #Enquiry #mediatrial #truth #corruption.”
On one year of his bail in the same case, Raj Kundra had tweeted earlier, “One Year Today released from #ArthurRoad Its a matter of time Justice will be served! The truth will be out soon! Thank you, well-wishers and a bigger thank you to the trollers you make me stronger (folded hands emoji).” His posts were also accompanied by hashtags such as inquiry, word, media trial, and trollers.
According to reports, Raj Kundra claims that he was set up in the case by “senior officers of the Mumbai Crime Branch.” He has requested that the case be investigated. Raj allegedly claimed in his letter, “I have lived in silence for one year; ripped apart by a media trial and spent 63 days in Arthur Road Jail. I seek justice from the courts, which I know I will get, and I humbly request an investigation against these officers.”
Raj had previously filed an application with a Mumbai magistrate’s court to be released from the case. According to sources, police found no evidence that Raj gained any monetary or another type of gain from the alleged offence, and the prosecution has not attributed to him any intent to commit an offence, according to the application. Raj Kundra was arrested in the case in July 2021 and later released on bail after more than two months.
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