President Pranab Mukherjee always reminds me of the sea and coconuts. You may wonder what the connection between the President and the sea and coconuts is. It was while I was a JNU student I saw Pranab Mukherjee. Before coming to the president, let me describe the salient features of JNU. The moment we enter the JNU campus, we are in a new world which is 'far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife' and we are now ‘along the cool sequestered vale of life'. Nilgais and peacocks, whose habitat is the Aravalli forests of the campus, roam all over the more than 1500 acre eco-friendly campus. In the world of JNU, day and night virtually don’t exist. Actually JNU is more awake at night. The dhabas never shut at night time.
Eminent persons like Arundhati Roy are invited to the JNU hostels—Satlej, Jhelam, Ganga, Yamuna, Thapti, Kaveri, Periyar, Godavari, Brahmaputra—to talk on current issues. The venue will be the mess hall of any one of the hostels and the time is invariably after 10 pm. When everybody has had their food, the tables and benches in the mess hall would be arranged in a way that makes it an auditorium and the students from all hostels will throng to the mess hall where the talk is scheduled.
Once the guest was Pranab Mukherjee and the topic was economic policies of the NDA goverment. It was 2000 and the NDA was ruling the country. Naturally Pranab Mukherjee lambasted the NDA. The specialties of the JNU mess hall talks are that they are exclusively arranged by the students and the speaker has to spend more time answering the questions posed by the students. And the questions would of course be difficult ones to answer.
When Pranab Mukherjee finished his speech, I asked him: "Sir, liberalisation was ushered in by the Congress government in 1991. You too were a Cabinet Minister in that government. The NDA government follows the same economic policies of the previous Congress governments. And what moral right do you have to criticise the present government? You know, in Kerala farmers are throwing coconuts into the sea as a protest against the price crunch.
It was the direct result of liberalisation which is corporate-friendly. Both the Congress and NDA governments are equally to be blamed for the economic policies that have broken the backbone of the farmers and the poor. You the Congress people started it and the NDA people follow it. How can you blame them alone?" The future president virtually skipped the question and ever since Pranab Mukherjee reminds me of the sea and coconuts.