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Subrata Mukherjee was a beacon in Congress politics

NewsSubrata Mukherjee was a beacon in Congress politics

With the passing away of Subrata Mukherjee on Diwali night, curtain was wrung down on the Priyo-Subrata-Somen triumvirate which rejuvenated Congress in West Bengal in the face of assault by Left Front, under the storm clouds of Naxalism in the late 1960s. Chhatra Parishad, the students’ outfit launched by the trio of Priyoranjan Dasmunsi, Subrata Mukherjee and Soumen Mitra , along with its contemporary Kerala Students’Union, led by Vyalar Ravi, P. C. Chacko, V. M. Sudheeran, became the core which led to the formation of the National Students Union of India(NSUI) in April 1971 with P. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam of Delhi University as its President. Dasmunsi and Ravi won the 1971 Lok Sabha poll and were accommodated in Congress Working Committee; Subrata, Soumen, Chacko and Sudheeran entered the legislatures of their states in 1972, thus giving fillip to students’ movement under Congress banner. Mamata Banerjee was a protégé of Subrata Mukherjee who began her political career in Chhatra Parishad (as most senior members of present West Bengal cabinet). After she emerged as the Trinamool leader Subrata served under her and was one of the few efficient ministers in West Bengal for the past decade. Subrata’s role as a disciplined soldier of his past protégé is by itself a case study in the ego-infested political scenario of India.

Subrata will be remembered for his yeoman role as Mayor of Calcutta (renamed Kolkata by Left Front regime of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2001) between 2000 and 2005. Gariahat, a busy intersection in South Kolkata, was congested as its pavements were encroached upon and a “Hawkers’ Corner” of multiple shanties. Subrata cited the meaning of “hawker”—a person who sells his wares on the street by going door to door—and questioned how a hawker could put up a permanent shop on a pavement. Dismantling of Gariahat “Hawkers’ Corner” decongested the city. It is learning for municipal managers in metropolises. Also as Mayor Subrata put in place guidelines for Durga Puja pandals which spring up on streets each autumn. Passage for fire brigade vehicles was made mandatory before permission was granted. Subhas Chandra Bose as Mayor had set some standards for Calcutta in the 1920s—Subrata replicated Bose’s authority in municipal management eight decades later.

He became a minister first in 1972 under Siddhartha Shankar Ray—municipal affairs was his portfolio. The experience gained then was reflected in his role as Mayor in 2000-05. His role as Panchayati Raj Minister under Mamata gave sinews to Trinamool’s rural reach which was evident in the last Vidhan Sabha polls. As Information Minister he did not bar Left intellectuals from receiving state patronage.

Dasmusni defied Sanjay Gandhi and was ousted as Indian Youth Congress president in December 1975. Subrata continued as a party minister. The apparent rift between him and Dasmunsi continued thereafter, with Dasmunsi joining the “rival” Congress nationally and then reverting back to the mainstream party. When Dasmunsi died after a prolonged illness in November 2017, as a minister Subrata ensured that full state honours were accorded. He personally supervised the massive funeral procession in Raiganj. Similar was his role when Somen Mitra passed away in July 2020. Subrata’s death was condoled with respect by CPI(M) leaders, his rivals in campus politics. Dr B.C. Roy as Congress CM had affection for young Jyoti Basu. As Left Front CM Basu replicated that affection for Subrata in the Opposition benches.

Suvendu Adhikari, the BJP Leader of Opposition, who defeated Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram, paid rare tribute: he recalled that as Speaker-protem when Subrata Mukherjee was swearing in new MLAs Adhikari was delayed (he was in High Court petitioning against Mamata). He sent word to Subrata who phoned him to say that he will extend the swearing-in to enable Suvendu to take oath on the very first day. West Bengal Congress forgot its fissure with Trinamool and dipped its flag in his honour. Bonhomie among political rivals lived in West Bengal till Subrata’s last breath.

Amar Singh, the man who emerged as a mover and shaker in New Delhi and Samajwadi Party politics of UP in the 1990s, was also a discovery of Subrata Mukherjee. In the 1980s, when Subrata visited New Delhi, Amar Singh used to be his host.

Subrata’s disenchantment with Congress began after Indira Gandhi’s death. He could not somehow reconcile to the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. This writer had known him as a student activist. My proximity was privy to Rajiv Gandhi’s political advisor, M.L. Fotedar, who asked me if I could persuade Subrata to meet him and subsequently, the Prime Minister. I conveyed. He came to Delhi. While entering PM House, 7 Race Course Road (now Lok Kalyan Marg) he asked me to ensure his name was not entered in the visitor’s entry register. Thus my name was recorded and he was mentioned as “plus one”. The meeting did not yield result. Later, he told me he had come as an old friend had been tasked and his respect for Indira Gandhi made him meet her son. He was a leading light of Trinamool Congress since its very inception in 1998.

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