Mukherjee, an engineer-turned politician, said he also wants to help work towards re-industrialising eastern India, which he feels can be the trade corridor for the country’s Look East or Act East policy of connecting with East and South East Asia.
“I have grown up believing in secular and inclusive politics which my father, our then prime minister Indira Gandhi and others of that generation of Congress leaders believed in. I cannot come anywhere near them in stature, but I think it is time those of us who are in public life took a stand and united to support the concept of a secular India,” he told in an interview.
Mukherjee, a two-time Lok Sabha MP from his father’s pocket borough of Jangipur, said he joined the Mamata Banerjee-led party because she has taken a strong stand on this issue.
“The TMC has also worked to have a consensus in national politics which is what my father was known for during his political career and later as President,” he pointed out.
The stress on secular politics and consensus building seemed like an indirect attack on the BJP, which is often accused by rival political parties of being communal and of ignoring state sensitivities. However, the younger Mukherjee refused to be drawn into a conversation on the subject.
“I also ideologically believe in the concept of inclusive growth which takes care of the last man standing when we plan economic development and not just the rich industrial barons,” the alumnus of the Jadavpur University said, adding that “these legacy beliefs” are “shared by Mamata-di, who is herself from the same school of thought”.
Though Pranab Mukherjee, the quincentennial Congress politician, had been Banerjee’s mentor in her early political career, the two had their differences especially when she had sought write offs of a huge debt overhang that Bengal had taken during the Left Front’s rule.
Nevertheless, political pundits believe they shared a special relationship, which made it easy for the son to walk into the TMC camp.
“My father helped former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, whose birth anniversary we recently celebrated, in crafting the Look East policy which this (central) government has now renamed Act East,” said Mukherjee, adding that the policy was thought out to connect India strategically to the growing markets of ASEAN and East Asia.
“If we want that policy to succeed, we need to re- industrialise Bengal and eastern India and treat it as the fulcrum for a trade corridor to these markets,” he said.
Bengal’s and eastern India’s industry has been faltering since the 1970s when a large number of factories shut shop because of economic factors and a Left-inspired wave of strikes.
“I worked with other top managers in merging IISCO with SAIL and in reviving it by pumping in Rs 16,000 crore, possibly the largest investment in eastern India ever.
“There is need to work further in that direction and leverage the presence of iron ore, coal and ports to revive engineering industry here. I believe that TMC can do that and perhaps in some ways I can be of help,” said Mukherjee, who served in the public sector SAIL for two-and-a-half decades.
IISCO which had been started by Sir R N Mookerjee more than 100 years back in Bengal, had rivalled
in its days. After nationalization in the 1970s, it had turned into a white elephant after its plant became outdated.
However, an effort to revive it by building Asia’s largest blast furnace and ancillary plants seems to have paid off and is expected to create a fillip by way of downstream industries in the Durgapur-Asansol industrial belt and upstream industries in Jharkhand.
Speaking of plans apart from politics, Mukherjee said he wanted to float a think tank in his fathers name which would work in rural areas and in fostering better relations with neighbouring countries.
“My father along with other leaders worked towards the good relations we now have with Bangladesh, whose 50 years are being celebrated this year. He took pains in building the Zaranj highway in Afghanistan, in re-starting relations with Myanmar.
“These are areas this think tank could work on along with issues like rural education which was close to his heart,” the newly minted TMC politician said.