India mourns former president Pranab Mukherjee amid Covid crisis

Former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, a senior leader of the Congress party who served in multiple cabinets during five decades in politics, has died. He was 84.

Mukherjee had emergency surgery for a blood clot in his brain on 10 August at Delhi’s Army Hospital Research and Referral after a fall. The hospital said he tested positive for Covid-19 after the surgery and his condition was critical.

He remained in a coma after the operation. The hospital said his health began declining on Monday after a lung infection resulted in septic shock. His son, former lawmaker Abhijeet Mukherjee, later tweeted that he had died.

The government has announced a week of mourning. Prime minister Narendra Modi, who leads the rival Bharatiya Janata party, called Mukherjee a “towering statesman” who “left an indelible mark on the development trajectory” of India. “His wise counsel on key policy matters will never be forgotten by me,” he said.

Narendra Modi

India grieves the passing away of Bharat Ratna Shri Pranab Mukherjee. He has left an indelible mark on the development trajectory of our nation. A scholar par excellence, a towering statesman, he was admired across the political spectrum and by all sections of society.

August 31, 2020

Mukherjee’s death comes after India recorded the world’s highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, just as the government began easing restrictions to help the country’s battered economy. Nearly 65,000 people have died from Covid-19 in India, with total cases at more than 3.6 million.

Mukherjee was president from 2012 to 2017, at the end of a long period when the Congress party held power. The office is largely ceremonial in India, with executive powers resting with the prime minister.

Before that, he had been minister of finance, defence and foreign affairs for three separate prime ministers and helped manage their fractious governing coalitions.

Mukherjee was a college teacher in West Bengal before first running for public office in 1969. He became a protege of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi and was loyal to her during the Internal Emergency she had proclaimed from 1975 to 1977, when elections were suspended and civil liberties were curbed. Many of her opponents were imprisoned.

Pranab Mukherjee presents the Padma Shree award to Indian film actress Sridevi in 2013

Pranab Mukherjee presents the Padma Shree award to Indian film actress Sridevi in 2013 Photograph: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

He lost his position as finance minister after Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 and her son Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister. Mukherjee formed his own party but later reconciled with Rajiv Gandhi and returned to the Congress party in 1989.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, Mukherjee joined the cabinets of his successors, P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.

Mukherjee was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2019.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter. His wife died in 2015.

The Guardian

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