Subrata Mukherjee was a beacon in congressional politics


With the death of Subrata Mukherjee on the night of Diwali, the curtain has been raised on the Priyo-Subrata-Somen triumvirate which rejuvenated the West Bengal Congress in the face of the onslaught of the Left Front, under the stormy clouds of naxalism in the late 1960s. Chhatra Parishad, the student group launched by the trio of Priyoranjan Dasmunsi, Subrata Mukherjee and Soumen Mitra, as well as her Contemporary Student Union of Kerala, led by Vyalar Ravi, PC Chacko, VM Sudheeran, is became the nucleus which led to the formation of the National Union of Students of India (NSUI) in April 1971 with P. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam of the University of Delhi as president. Dasmunsi and Ravi won the 1971 Lok Sabha poll and were housed in the congressional working committee; Subrata, Soumen, Chacko and Sudheeran entered their state legislatures in 1972, thus giving a boost to the student movement under the banner of Congress. Mamata Banerjee was a protégé of Subrata Mukherjee who began her political career at Chhatra Parishad (as the oldest members of the current West Bengal cabinet). After emerging as the leader of Trinamool, Subrata served under him and was one of the few effective ministers in West Bengal for the past decade. Subrata’s role as the disciplined soldier of his former protege is itself a case study in India’s ego-infested political scenario.

Subrata will be remembered for his important role as mayor of Calcutta (renamed Kolkata by the Left Front regime of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2001) between 2000 and 2005. Gariahat, a busy intersection in southern Calcutta, was congested as its sidewalks were overrun and a “Hawkers’ Corner” of several barracks. Subrata cited the meaning of “peddler” – a person who sells his wares on the street by going door to door – and wondered how a hawker could set up a permanent shop on a sidewalk. The dismantling of Gariahat “Hawkers’ Corner” has decongested the city. It is an apprenticeship for the city managers of the metropolises. In addition, Mayor Subrata has put in place guidelines for them. Durga Puja pandals that grow in the streets every fall. Passage of fire vehicles has been made compulsory before permission is granted. Subhas Chandra Bose as mayor av established standards for Calcutta in the 1920s. Subrata reproduced Bose’s authority in municipal management eight decades later.

He first became minister 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 minister of Panchayati Raj under Mamata gave nerves to the rural reach of Trinamool, which was evident in the latest Vidhan Sabha polls. As Minister of Information, he did not prevent left-wing intellectuals from receiving state patronage.

Dasmusni challenged Sanjay Gandhi and was ousted as president of the Indian Youth Congress in December 1975. Subrata continued as party minister. The apparent rift between him and Dasmunsi subsequently continued, with Dasmunsi joining the “rival” Congress at the national level, then returning to the dominant party. When Dasmunsi passed away from a prolonged illness in November 2017, as minister, Subrata ensured that all state honors were bestowed. He personally oversaw the massive funeral procession in Raiganj. His role was similar when Somen Mitra passed away in July 2020. Subrata’s death was tolerated with respect by leaders of CPI (M), his rivals in campus politics. Dr BC Roy, as CM of Congress, had affection for young Jyoti Basu. As the Left Front, CM Basu reproduced this affection for Subrata on the opposition benches.

Suvendu Adhikari, the opposition leader of the BJP, who defeated Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram, paid a rare tribute: he recalled that as President-protem when Subrata Mukherjee was sworn in to the new deputies Adhikari was delayed (he was before the High Court to petition against Mamata). He sent word to Subrata who telephoned to tell him that he would extend the oath to allow Suvendu to take the oath from day one. The West Bengal Congress forgot its split with Trinamool and dived its flag in his honor. Bonhomie among political rivals lived in West Bengal until the last breath of Subrata.

Amar Singh, the man who emerged as an actor and agitator in New Delhi and in the politics of the Samajwadi party of the UP in the 1990s, was also a discovery of Subrata Mukherjee. In the 1980s, when Subrata visited New Delhi, Amar Singh was his host.

Subrata’s disenchantment with Congress began after Indira Gandhi’s death. He could somehow come to terms with the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. This writer had known him as a student activist. My closeness was aware of Rajiv Gandhi’s political adviser, ML Fotedar, who asked me if I could persuade Subrata to meet with him and subsequently the Prime Minister. I transmitted. He came to Delhi. Upon entering PM House, 7 Race Course Road (now Lok Kalyan Marg), he asked me to make sure his name was not on the visitor entry log. So my name was registered and it was mentioned as “plus one”. The meeting was unsuccessful. Later he told me that he had come as an old friend had been instructed and his respect for Indira Gandhi made him meet his son. He has been one of the leaders of the Trinamool Congress since its inception in 1998.

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