NEW DELHI: His father was the former President of India and one of the most respected politicians of the country, with reach across party lines. For Pranab Mukherjee’s son, Abhijit Mukherjee, politics comes easy. An engineer turned politician, Abhijit Mukherjee made his debut on a Congress ticket in 2011 Assembly elections. He went on to be a two-term Lok Sabha MP after winning elections from his father’s seat in Jangipur in 2012 and again, in 2014. Unfortunately, he lost in 2019.
Two years after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and one year after the demise of his father, Pranab Mukherjee, Abhijit Mukherjee has now joined Trinamool Congress (TMC).
In a candid conversation with Rohan Dua of The New Indian, Abhijit Mukherjee talks about why he defected from Congress to TMC and his hopes from the new party.
Rohan: It has almost been a year since your father’s demise. He spent over forty years in the Congress party and held some of the important portfolios in its government, such as Finance, Defence and External Affairs. What are his memories for you today?
Abhijit Mukherjee: My father’s passing on has been a great personal loss. He was a towering personality, and to those close to him, he was like an umbrella who shielded us from harsh weather. I especially miss his guidance and assurance. Now, it feels like I am fighting a lone battle.
In the last seven and a half years, I have fought four elections. Of which, I won three. But I lost the fourth election, and badly at that. Thereafter, I remained only a member of the party. No activities were assigned to me and I was not included in any party activities. Whatever be the reason, I am not getting into details or blaming anyone.
Rohan: So what was the last straw? What made you quit Congress and join TMC?
Abhijit Mukherjee: It was the humiliation that I faced during the West Bengal elections. Though I was officially put in charge of handling the elections and given one of the main positions by the AICC, I was not invited to even a single meeting. All my requests and efforts to reach out were turned down. At the ground level too, party workers and associates were hesitant to share information… I could read between the lines. It did not leave a good taste.
Rohan: But then I believe, the Congress party was also harsh to your father, especially towards the end of his political career. Do you have any memories of that time and the treatment meted out to him?
Abhijit Mukherjee: I would rather not use the word harsh… That was also the time when Congress lost two other stalwarts. While the party paid its respects to the other leaders at the Congress Working Committee meeting, it was heartbreaking to note that my father’s name did not even find a mention. For a person who gave more than fifty years to a party, the treatment meted out to him was uncalled for. This, I feel, is a grudge that people of Bengal hold against the party. They did not treat their most old and loyal leader well.
Rohan: Would you hold it against the party high command?
Abhijit Mukherjee: It was Sonia Gandhiji who gave me my first ticket and I won the elections that year. She openly showed her support and made a visit to Nalhati, Bengal in the harsh summer month of May, 2011. She stayed with us for more than 45 minutes after the meeting got over. In 2014 too, she made another visit. I won that election as well. The last election, however, she could not be there because of health reasons.
Rohan: If not Sonia Gandhi, who would you hold responsible for your exit?
Abhijit Mukherjee: It was my own decision.
Rohan: But you did say they ignored you and humiliated you…
Abhijit Mukherjee: I was humiliated by one particular person. I am not naming that man, but it was that one particular person!
Rohan: Was it Mr. Rahul Gandhi?
Abhijit Mukherjee: I would not like to mention it. This is one of the reasons.
Rohan: Did the Gandhis try to reconcile the differences which occurred between you and the Congress?
Abhijit Mukherjee: No one reached out. There was no call. In fact, I came to Delhi and even sought an audience with the leadership, but somehow due to Covid and several other reasons, I could not get an appointment.
If I look at how things have panned out, I would say that I have not changed my track even today. Only, earlier, I was in the mother Congress, and now, I am in the other Congress. The main word being Congress. The prefix is Trinamool but it is Congress nevertheless. Mamata Banerjee is a product of Congress. 90% of her associates are from the Congress.
Rohan: The head of your new party, Mamata Banerjee, seems to be coming of age beyond the image of being a street fighter or a firebrand leader. Do you think that she is gunning for 2024 as a unanimous choice among the opposition leaders as a PM pick?
Abhijit Mukherjee: Yes, I wish for that to happen and I hope every Bengali agrees with that idea.
Rohan: On May 2, the day the results were announced, there was significant post poll violence in West Bengal. The Human Rights Commission too made damning disclosures on the violence in their inquiry report. In terms of numbers, the report listed a maximum number of complaints at 2,000. However, only 1,300 out of 9,300 accused were nabbed. Of these, 1000 odd were bailed out. Both the Centre and West Bengal government blame each other. What are your views on the same?
Abhijit Mukherjee: In principle, any poll violence — pre or post — is unacceptable.
Rohan: Considering the fact that TMC recently gave a Rajya Sabha berth to another leader who defected from the Congress, what role do you see for yourself in the party?
Rohan: BJP has shown a lot of respect towards your father. He was also awarded Bharat Ratna during its tenure. Something, which Congress could have done at some stage. How do you look at BJP’s honour for your father?
Abhijit Mukherjee: A worthy person got a worthy award.