KOLKATA: Long before Pranab Mukherjee began his political career in the late sixties, Poltu, as he was known in Mirati, his ancestral village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, had his first brush with political leadership.
Budhhadeb Konai from Mukherjee’s village recalled how the departed leader once led a boycott in Class IX at the Kirnahar Shib Chandra High School.
“One morning, the headmaster found some furniture broken and he held the students of the class responsible. The headmaster ordered them to pay a fine. But Poltuda protested and led a boycott,” said Konai, quoting Mukherjee’s classmate, Mihir Chattopadhyay.
Old timers at Mirati recounted how the boy next door set out on a journey from Bengalto the corridors of Parliament and the lawns of Rashtrapati Bhawan.
“In my childhood, I used to see him playing football as a defender at our village. Not only in the football field, he was equally at ease at stopping the opposition in the political arena,” Konai said.
Konai said although Mukherjee’s classmates were no more, they told him many tales about the former President.
“A minister once visited their school. The headmaster of the school had asked students of Class IX and X to narrate the school’s problem to the minister. When none of them dared to stand up, Poltuda stood up and volunteered with his oratory and reasoning skills. The minister was impressed.”
Mukherjee’s neighbours at Mirati and its adjoining Kirnahar village recounted how he remained unchanged even at the height of his political career.
"He used to visit his ancestral house on Durga Puja and Kali Puja every year. We used to go there and meet him. As President, he was well aware of grass-root level issues, right from a broken culvert to a potholes on road," said Rabi Chatterjee, a close aide.