Pranab Mukherjee - The Unsuitable Boy

Published: Friday, Jul 13,2012, 16:32 IST
Pranab Mukherjee a controversial politician, United Progressive Alliance, 2012 Presidential Election, CPM, Communist Party of India, Marxist,

Mr Pranab Mukherjee is a controversial politician, with a spectacular talent for avoiding accountability.  As one of India’s leading high profile politicians, he advertises himself fairly well on his website.

His political profile shows that he has held some important positions in the Indian government during Congress’ monopoly of power.  During these years, the scale of corruption has become uncontrollable, yet no independent inquiry or investigation has ever been undertaken to determine the truth of the allegations against him.  Instead, each new scandal or allegation has been met with a dismissive attitude followed by extensive mud-slinging. This clever puffer fish has created a smoke screen so dense that the public cannot see through it to the facts. Lord Acton once stated “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men”. We aim to determine the extent of truth in this statement when it comes to this politician.

IBTL Columns

Mr Mukherjee, a former finance minister, is currently soliciting the public’s vote of confidence as the United Progressive Alliance nominee for the 2012 Presidential Election. The extent of the public's confidence in him – and his ability to induce that confidence - will be known when the votes are counted on the 22nd July 2012.

His task may be made easier by the super-powered media spin machine influenced by this heavy-weight party - Congress – and his well-known alliance with the Communists. The Times of India wrote as follows.

"He (Mukherjee) owes a lot to CPM (Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Left Front. When he started his political career in Bengal Congress in the 1960s, then also he received lot of help from the Marxists," Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said.
Will the public see the real face of Pranab Mukherjee, or will the media be able to successfully spin him down the road to the Presidential throne? His website is a vehicle for his image, and specifically refuses to be drawn into the controversial allegations against him. But the truth is visible behind the numerous layers of make-up for those who look for it.

As a talented opportunist, Mr Mukherjee intends to milk the forthcoming publicity bandwagon by selling his autobiography. As a man who responds to his critics with his infamous dismissive attitude, it will be interesting to see whether his autobiography provides the public with much needed details of the scandals that have plagued his reign in the government.

Our question really is this – is Mr Mukherjee suitable for the President’s job? Documents obtained by Wikileaks in 2011 confirmed that the United States questioned the appointment of Pranab Mukherjee to his former position as Finance Minister.

Times of India featured the matter here,

In a cable to the US Embassy in Delhi in September 2009, Clinton asked, "To which business groups is Mukherjee beholden?’ Why was (he) chosen over Montek?" It further adds: "To which industrial or business groups is Pranab Mukherjee beholden? Whom will he seek to help through his policies? What are Mukherjee's priorities in the upcoming budget”
Of course, we wonder why Hilary Clinton did not favour Pranab Mukherjee as Finance Minister. Perhaps she was privy to more information than members of the public. Whatever the reasoning here, the US’ view is persuasive in our argument that this candidate may well be the unsuitable boy.

The Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.

A good leader is able to command the attention of both his colleagues and the public.  But can anyone stay awake when Mr Mukherjee is speaking in Parliament?  This television report shows Mukherjee speaking and many members falling fast asleep. These sleeping beauties may be criticised, but it is clear that Mr Mukherjee’s speeches have a soporific effect. Perhaps this effect has extended to the rest of India where everyone is asleep!

India Today wrote an entertaining report on the numerous Sleeping Beauties here. There is also an infamous picture floating around Facebook showing Mukherjee himself soundly sleep on the job. So, not only does Mr Mukherjee cause everyone to fall asleep, he too snores in Parliament and pays little attention to important business. If any other national or international professional fell asleep on the job, they would be disciplined, suspended or fired. For this man of supreme power, the only accountability remains social media’s ability to reach so many people with the facts. Needless to say, the matter of falling asleep on the job was summarily dismissed and conveniently forgotten.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

During the run up to the Presidential election, Mukherjee’s past has come to haunt him in various forms. Of Mr Mukherjee, leading film actor and politician, Shatrughan Sinha recently told the media:

"A person who is going to occupy the high post of President should be acceptable and respectable among all countrymen."
Mr Sinha, of course, echoes the sentiments of a few good men who believe that service to the public is based on integrity and honesty. Interestingly, in a 1998 interview for, Mukherjee was asked about the corruption in the Congress government, in which he was the Minister for External Affairs. He replied: “Corruption is an issue. We have dealt with it in the manifesto. But I am sorry to say that these scams are not confined to the Congress or the Congress government alone. There are so many scams. So many leaders of various political parties are involved in them. So it would be too simplistic to say that the Congress government was involved in scams”
To test his quote, we decided to investigate his role in various allegations of corruption.

It is unfortunate that your response conceals and distorts facts at several places”

The Dark Side of the Upcoming President Pranab Mukherjee details a list of allegations of corruption to be laid at his door. It is not unexpected that these allegations have effectively been dismissed without investigation at section entitled "It is unfortunate that your response conceals and distorts facts at several places"

The more recent allegations against him have been made by leading anti-corruption campaign group – India Against Corruption. Their list of allegations is available here for download .

They include

  1. The Navy War Room Leak case
  2. The Rice Scam
  3. The Scorpene Submarine Case

In summary, he is named in an Rs 2500 crore export scam. They also allege corruption in a Scorpene deal and Navy War room leak when he was defence minister. Faced with these allegations, Mr Mukherjee dismissed them without providing the public with a reasonable, well formed, evidence based defence. Again, no independent inquiries were conducted into the allegations made by India Against Corruption. Mukherjee’s ability to distort the facts is clearly outlined in IAC’s correspondence to him. In their letter, they say as follows

“It is unfortunate that your response conceals and distorts facts at several places.” The letter reiterated charges of irregularity in the Navy war room leak and Scorpene deal cases, which have been denied by the Minister’s office”
India Against Corruption told Firstpost

“It is very sad that a person against whom not one but four serious charges of corruption were levelled is likely to be the next President of our country,” Kejriwal said”
Of the lack of accountability or inquiry, he stated

When we submitted the list, Congress President rejected it, terming it as baseless allegations. And Prime Minister had also rejected our demand. So once Pranab Mukherjee becomes the President, there won’t be any inquiry against him”
Most honest politicians would deal with such allegations by instigating a transparent inquiry into a formal complaint. Congress and Mr Mukherjee have, instead, dismissed the allegations, questioned the motives of said allegations and engaged in heavy mud-slinging word games that distort the public’s perception but do little to improve public confidence. But an absence of meaningful responses to the justified allegations against this politician is not a new pattern. More recent events merely appear to be a replay of past characteristics.

We are not makers of history. We are made by history : If we travel back in time, Mr Mukherjee has a number of entertaining skeletons in his Bengali closet.

Apart from the many big fish he is associated with, there are sharks that have been concealed from prying eyes. These sharks have progressively got richer and more powerful while the real victims of the scandals have remained ruined. The convenience of historical data is that we have the opportunity to conduct post mortems and develop a crystal clear view of this politician's pattern of conduct.

Deceit and corruption surrounded the troubled Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, between 1975-1977. Pranab Mukherjee was rumoured to have been responsible for some of the excesses of the time, and was summoned by the Shah Commission. Both Gandhi and Mukherjee subsequently refused to resign.

The Indian Express wrote

"The Commission was just a fact-finding commission. On the basis of its report, the government could have taken action. But nothing was done,'' says a police officer who was part of the Commission. According to him, the only people who faced a tough time due to the inquiry report, were those people who were part of the Commission”
The Shah Commission report died a slow and painful death. A few have demanded accountability, but the news story rears its head occasionally and is then forgotten.

In 2011, V.U. Eradi, former member of Central Board of Direct Taxes, the officer who dealt with the tax matters in the Shah Commission, wrote a powerful piece. In his article “Put in the Dock by the Shah Commission”. He wrote

Based on the above, it would not be unreasonable to ask the Finance Minister to specify in which case where a tonne of primary gold with Swiss markings was discovered was he “put in the dock by the Shah Commission.” History and propriety demand an honest answer.”
Quite right. Of course, as time moves on, the probability of any meaningful response is negligible.

Other papers in India have resurrected the past. KN Arun wrote:

Pranab da has the dubious distinction of being one of the ministers to be indicted by the Shah Commission set up by the Janta Party government to go into the Emergency excesses. Among the charges in which he was indicted related to the illegal arrest and jailing of the erstwhile Gayatri Devi and Col Bhawani Singh, the erstwhile Maharani and Maharaja of Jaipur. Gayatri Devi, a leading light of the Swantantra Party, had been a member of Parliament”
Arun goes on:

“In its report submitted in 1978, the Shah Commission observed that Mukherjee had “misused his position and abused his authority in ordering the detention of Smt Gayatri Devi and Col Bhawani Singh..It is clearly a case of subversion of lawful process and of administrative procedures.”  He was also indicted on the charge of fudging the files relating to the arrest of Gayatri Devi.
In fact, the LP Singh committee, set up by the Morarji Desai government to take follow-up action on the Shah Commission findings, had ordered police investigation into the ‘criminal falsification’ of the file relating to Gayatri Devi’s arrest as well as Pranab’s role in the jailing of the erstwhile Jaipur Maharaja and Maharani”
A police report was filed, but, when Mrs Gandhi returned to power, it was withdrawn. The pattern of non accountability is fairly well demonstrated here. If the individuals had nothing to conceal, there would be no objection to purposeful concealment and subsequent bluster in the media.

A further controversy centred around Mukherjee's role in Reliance Industries. The article “Pranab pressured Sebi to go easy on RIL, save Rs 1,500 cr” shows documentary evidence. It commences:

“A month-and-a-half before he demitted office, former Sebi member KM Abraham wrote an anguished letter to the Prime Minister alleging pressure from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his advisor Omita Paul to “manage” cases against powerful corporate groups which were being investigated by Sebi
The author then writes:

“But another major case, involving insider trading by Reliance Industries Ltd, is still to be decided. And in this case, Abraham clearly alleges that Sebi Chairman UK Sinha had been pressuring him to find a way to get the Mukesh Ambani company off the hook. If Abraham had had his way, Reliance would have been fined Rs 1,500 crore in the consent order.”
The full and detailed letter of complaint to the Prime Minister is available for download here . Surprisingly, there has been no independent investigation into this matter.

Subhas Chandra Bose – A Cover Up?

More recently, further explosive revelations appeared in the Indian media, apparently based on declassified documents.

“A soon-to-be-published book claims that finance minister and UPA's presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee was engaged in an elaborate "cover-up" on the last days of Azad Hind Fauj founder and national leader Subhas Chandra Bose”
The evidence for these allegations will be interesting to note. No doubt, in true character, the current ruling government will safely place the matter in their closet of many skeletons hoping for a mass public memory loss of the event.

Damsel in Distress.

Mr Mukherjee took on the unlikely role of a Bollywood Superhero for his supportive role in the melodrama starring the foul mouthed heroine, Taslima Nasreen At this point, I should declare my conflict with Taslima Nasreen - we were both involved in what can only be described as a Twitter catfight. Following my comment supporting the male viewpoint, Taslima lashed back informing me that I was a call-girl dressed in a revealing black dress. She then stated that all my Twitter male friends were my clients. When I pointed out that my evening dress was actually seventy five percent burqa and showed less than the average Bollywood actress, Taslima had no further comments to make.

Since then, my opinion of her has not been positive. Taslima is no shy violet; she is not known for her polite or courteous narrative, and I am at a loss as to why Mr Mukherjee wished to be a super-hero to this self-made victim. After all, writers must take some responsibility for the potential impact of their offensive words.

It is a known fact that there are millions in India who suffer from poverty, are victims of mental and physical abuse and would be deserving of Mr Mukherjee’s heroic efforts. It may just be a coincidence that both Mukherjee and the damsel in distress are both Bengali. By comparison it should be noted that author, Salman Rushdie, was not defended by the Indian Government . Mr Mukherjee’s name appears in that case, too:

Sir Salman last night said India was in danger of losing essential freedoms because its leaders are not prepared to defend them. Some of India's most senior government leaders, including the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and two of the country's youngest chief ministers, Omar Abdullah of Jammu and Kashmir and Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, also pulled out of the conference.”
Of course, things were quite different for Mr Mukherjee when faced with a Bengali Damsel in Distress. Islamist groups had apparently issued her with various threats after being offended by her writings. In 2007, the then West Bengal government threw her out, so she came under the auspices of the Central Government and Mr Mukherjee. The article reported as follows. Mukherjee’s position was rather different from his reaction to Salman Rushdie, demonstrating that even he is capable of broadly discriminatory treatment and favouritism.

"India has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our protections," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament. "This policy will also apply in Taslima Nasreen's case," he said. "India will provide shelter to Taslima Nasreen." Nasreen is under the protection of federal security officials at an undisclosed location.
Taslima finally decided to back down on some of her highly offensive narratives. The Times of India was rather more cynical about the event essentially stating that being a Bollywood superhero wasn’t quite the starring role he had envisaged.

The Times of India wrote,

“Yet on Sunday, the same Mukherjee is apparently quite sick of her case, and many insiders say, with good reason. "For someone in her situation, she throws too many tantrums," said sources, throwing light on why the minister is feeling irritated”
It amusingly continued:

“It was a strange experience — in Kolkata, Nasreen was free to roam, write and chatter; here, even the next door neighbours had no clue she was living amongst them. She soon began to chaff under all the restrictions, which was perfectly natural.
Even the cook in the safehouse was not quite it. He couldn't cook fish. Mukherjee's household arranged for the fish from Chittaranjan Park and the cook, said sources. Then by the end of January she fell sick and had to be kept under observation in AIIMS”
They wanted Taslima to keep quiet and out of the headlines for a few months until the dust had settled and then she could return to Kolkata. But she had become, according to sources, very "querulous" by this time, asking for "all kinds of things".
While Mukherjee was caving in to the fish demands of this Bengali diva and wasting valuable public funds in doing so, he should have remembered the 360 million people who live in poverty. He should have spared a thought for the threat to life to Indian farmers were 1 farmer dies every 30 minutes and ask himself whether the 50 percent of child deaths that are due to malnutrition required his input. He may well believe his intervention in the case of one writer was justified, but how much public money was wasted in doing so? We therefore ask the question – can this man prioritise vital resources to ensure the most vulnerable in India are helped first? Perhaps not.

Unsuitable for President : In conclusion, we have demonstrated that Mr Pranab Mukherjee has questionable integrity and lacks transparency in his various dealings. He has escaped accountability for many years by virtue of his powerful and influential role with Congress. Despite serious, evidence-based concerns, no inquiries have been conducted to date.

This Presidential Candidate is unable to conduct himself as a proper statesman and clearly does not have much regard for fairness, justice and public confidence. Not only does he fall asleep in parliament, but his colleagues are unable to stay awake during his speeches. His correspondence to his various accusers appears unclear, with a habit of distorting the facts. There are many unanswered questions regarding the dubious scams where his involvement has been questioned. Similar patterns of dubious conduct can be demonstrated throughout his career. There are a few brave hearts who do challenge Mr Mukherjee, but his own political party has essentially turned a blind eye to public concerns, no doubt hoping that people’s memories will fade and he will arise victorious. Once that is done, further skeletons can be locked away in the Congress Closet of Many Secrets. After all, honesty is a very expensive gift; we shouldn’t expect it from cheap people.

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