Bengal celebrates Pranab’s presidential candidature

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Kolkata/Mirati: Having missed the bus 16 years ago when then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu could not become the Prime Minister following objections from his own party, West Bengal Friday celebrated the nomination of another son of the soil, Pranab Mukherjee as candidate for the nation’s presidency with sweets and bursting of firecrackers.

It is the first time that the state may get one of its home-bred personalities in the highest office of the country, with political parties now seemingly in a scramble to announce their support for the politician who is respected for his administrative ability and crisis management skills.

At Mirati, Mukherjee’s ancestral village in Birbhum district, festivities started soon after he was named candidate for the president’s post.

“We are very happy at the moment. We had anticipated the announcement and already arranged for massive festivities. People have been bursting firecrackers since the announcement was made on TV,” Mukherjee’s nephew Apremeya said.

Son of Kamada Kinkar Mukherjee and Rajlakshmi, Mukherjee was born Dec 11, 1935, in this village, around 170 km from Kolkata.

“Our house is being decorated. My mother (Ruby, Mukherjee’s sister-in-law), who is close to ‘kaka’ (uncle), is elated at the news and will be preparing his favourite dishes once he comes home,” said Apremeya.

The minister’s elder sister Annapurna Banerjee, reminiscing about his childhood, said he was a mischief maker.

“He was naughty since childhood. He would often spend hours swimming in the ponds or climbing trees. He would hardly study and I often ended up beating or scolding him. I did not spare him even when he was a grown-up. I once beat him when he was in the university,” she said.

In Kolkata, the West Bengal Pradesh Congress was ecstatic, as leaders embraced each other and distributed sweets at the state party headquarters, Bidhan Bhavan.

“It is a proud moment for Bengal. It is a proud moment for all of us,” said state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya, soon after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance nominated the union Finance Minister as the coalition’s candidate for the top post.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Tathagata Roy was equally happy: “It is for our party’s central leadership to decide its stand on the polls. But personally speaking, I can say that as a Bengali, I feel good.”

Sanghita Dasgupta, a teacher, called Mukherjee a “good choice”, despite admitting that she had a soft corner for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam too. Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has projected Kalam, a former President, as her candidate for the highest post.

Former Bengal Ranji Trophy winning captain Sambaran Banerjee said: “In 1996, Jyoti Basu was on the threshold of becoming Indian Prime Minister, but his party, the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist), did not agree.

“I had felt very bad then. I had tears in my eyes. But today I feel proud and happy,” said the former cricketer.

Industrialist Harshavardhan Neotia, Chairman of Kolkata-based Ambuja Realty, said: “It is certainly wonderful news. Pranab babu is a very erudite and competent person.”

Expressing happiness, Hemant Kanoria, Chairman and Managing Director, Srei Infrastructure Finance Limited, said Mukherjee was an outstanding politician and a leader of national stature.