India's President elect Pranab Mukherjee in his first interview to CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose after winning the President poll said that the moment the Returning Officer declares his name, he will be "everybody's President".
Sagarika Ghose: Hello and welcome. Pranab Mukherjee is all set to be the 13th President of the Republic of India and also the first Bengali President of the republic of India. Many, many congratulations. This is a big impressive victory.
Pranab Mukherjee: Thank you very much.
Sagarika Ghose: How do you feel?
Pranab Mukherjee: Of course, I feel satisfied and delighted. And I am particularly happy that those who committed, I mean the political parties who do not belong to our party or our formation - some of them extended their support to me and unscrupulously adhered to their commitment and ensured that each and every member of the electoral colleague, belonging to their party, they vote for it. That normally doesn't happen but I appreciate and I consider this as a great reward to my long stay in public life. That I have been able to get the support, love and affection of political establishments, cutting across the parties and lines and also that understanding which is essential and which helps a political activist to carry on his activities and programmes and business.
Sagarika Ghose: Your sister Annapurna Banerjee yesterday was very, very tearful and your cousins and your relatives in Birbhum were very proud, they were very tearful. Do you feel that someone like you who grew up in Mirati in Birbhum, today you are the Rashtrapati, you are the President, has it been an incredible journey?
Pranab Mukherjee: That you people have to qualify that whether the journey is credible or incredible. But I do feel, sometimes I feel, for instance when I filed my nomination paper suddenly the picture of my mother's face came and she was highly politically sensitive and conscious and naturally because her husband, my father, was in politics from 1920 and like any other housewives in those days whose husbands are freedom fighters or political activists, their lifestyle is divided between inside jail and outside jail. When outside jail they did not stay at home, they would do other political activities. I thought of her (mother) because suddenly it came to my mind that what would have been her comment when she would have got to know that I am elected the President. A small incidence came to my mind. When I was appointed the finance minister in 1982, then her first reaction - my parents were still alive then and my elder brothers and sisters, we used to stay together at my elder sister Annapurna Devi's home. Her (mother) first comment was that you people are enjoying but his work will increase. He will be more busy, he hardly gets any time right now. I think now she would have thought that my work will increase much more, though practically it isn't like that. Her perception was like that.
Sagarika Ghose: And Annapurna Devi said you were a very 'duronto chele' (turbulent boy).
Pranab Mukherjee: Very.
Sagarika Ghose: You still remain a 'duronto chele' inside?
Pranab Mukherjee: I was very much naughty. I gave them number of troubles and in all phases. And because my mother was very strict and disciplined, she used to give me a good deal of thrashing also for all the mischief and didi (Annapurna Devi) was always protective. If I do 10 wrongs, she will say no not 10 wrong things, just one or two. So she will always try to hide and protect me. And all these ideas use to come from where, what was the psychology.
Sagarika Ghose: Are your roots very much there in Mirati, in Birbhum? Do you still call it home?
Pranab Mukherjee: Yes. My roots are still there and I get back to my roots during the Durga puja, except for some years, I always go to the village as we have ancestral puja there for many years.
Sagarika Ghose: A lot of Bengalis are very happy today. It is a big day for Bengal. Are you someone who is rooted in Bengal but at the same time do you also feel you have a national outlook? Do you regional roots for a national outlook? Is this how you define yourself?
Pranab Mukherjee: I will define it in this way, not for myself but I look at it this way because of course my politics began in the state even as a regional party. First I started with Bengal Congress, a break away group from the Congress led by Ajay babu in mid 60s. Then it again came back to the Congress after three-four years. So, I had a place in the regional parties but my active political life started in Parliament. So, as I was never in local administration or in state assembly, I always used to think from not the State perspective or regional perspective. I am one of the hardened advocates of removing regional disparities, taking institutional steps to remove all these things. My approach has always been national because in my formative state, I had the privilege of seeing great personalities in Rajya Sabha many of the old freedom fighters were still there for instance Jairamdas Daulat Ram, he was a member. Mahavir Tyagi, he was a member of Rajya Sabha. Then AP Jain, Ajit Pasad Jain, he was a member of Rajya Sabha. So, many of the stalwarts of the Congress party from the freedom struggle who became ministers in 50s were there. Mahavir Tyagi became a minister in 1957, AP Jain was minister in 1957 in Nehru's cabinet, Jairam Das Daulatram was in 1950. So, these type of people were there. Even in the Opposition, Bhupesh Gupta was there, then Pandit Pitambar Das of the BJP. After I think six-seven months, Advani ji joined the Rajya Sabha. So I had the privilege of the atmosphere which prevailed at that time and it was substantially national and Indian.
Sagarika Ghose: But somehow, it is a return of Bengal to the mainstream. Many are seeing it like that because ever since 1939 when Netaji was ousted from the Congress and then Jyoti Basu didn't become prime minister in 1996, a Bengali has never held a high constitutional office. Do you see your becoming President as a return of Bengal in a way to national mainstream?
Pranab Mukherjee: Here also you people have to judge and not me. But one thing is correct that Bengal was highly political sensitive and advanced. Naturally, there may be regional aspirations, nothing wrong in it that somebody should hold constitutional office. Fortunately, we had speaker Somnath Chatterjee, I think he was the first Bengali speaker, but some offices for the first time a Bengali held, for instance Rajya Sabha leadership. Rajya Sabha was constituted in 1952. Rajya Sabha leader was a Bengali gentleman; his name was CC Biswas. He was a minister in Nehru's cabinet. And when Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, of course neither you, nor Rajdeep were born in those days, I am taking you back in history.
Sagarika Ghose: But you have a phenomenal political historical memory, is it because you read a lot? Do you read about the lives of these figures or you naturally remember?
Pranab Mukherjee: I'll tell you very frankly. I don't only read once, for the ones I like I read umpteenth number of times. Even a fiction if I like, I read many a times.
Sagarika Ghose: And when do you read? Because you work 18 hours a day.
Pranab Mukherjee: My reading time is very disciplined. Whenever I get time, I read something. I can't stay without reading. I will read files, papers or I will read a book.
Sagarika Ghose: You don't watch TV?
Pranab Mukherjee: Very little.
Sagarika Ghose: Let's come back a little bit to the elections. You said your roots are in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee has said she voted for you with a heavy heart. Would you like to send her a message?
Pranab Mukherjee: Let us forget about it. I spoke to her, she was very nice. I have invited her to the swearing-in and I hope she comes.
Sagarika Ghose: But were you hurt? The kind of charges that were made against you by the Opposition, were you hurt by the kind if charges levelled by the Opposition NDA?
Pranab Mukherjee: I think this should have been avoided because none of these are substantially correct but I would not like to enter into any controversy at this stage. I have kept them behind. I don't have hard feelings for anybody. I take this opportunity to convey and make it clear that I have hard feelings towards nobody.
Sagarika Ghose: Are you going to be everybody's President?
Pranab Mukherjee: Of course, I will be. The moment the Returning Officer declares, I am everybody's President.
Sagarika Ghose: Many say that you are a politician of the old style. You have friends in many parties, you may be political adversaries but don't have political enemies. Is that kind of politics dying out, where politics is a contest of ideas, it is about adversarial positions but it is not about personal enmity? When you see the kind of polarised politics today, do you feel a little sad?
Pranab Mukherjee: Sometimes, polarisation could be on issues. I have seen in the history of post independence, of course I did not have the privilege of participating in the pre-independence or immediate after independence. As you know, I joined politics in the 60s. From there I found that yes at one point of time, particularly, in the 70s politics was anti-Congress and major political parties were in the NDA's team, anti-Congress team. But then I didn't believe that it is going to be a very healthy side and even now I don't believe that something entirely anchored to politics. On issues, yes. Whether there should be total State control on economy or not, whether the economy will be totally market-oriented without any social intervention or not. These are issues which can be debated; there can be two-three views etc. There is nothing wrong in it. But that should not lead to polarisation which will generate heat, hatred.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you feel that hatred is very bad which has crept into political life?
Pranab Mukherjee: Always.
Sagarika Ghose: Many are saying you are going to be a great reconciler. Someone like you, who has good relations with people across the political spectrum, could be a reconciler as a President. Is that a role you would like to play? Reconciling force between the two warring political formations?
Pranab Mukherjee: I have not yet defined my role because I will have to do that as an when the situation unfolds. I would just like to say one thing; the role of the Indian President is very well laid out in the Constitution. In the text of the Constitution, by all the stalwarts who have had held this office.
Sagarika Ghose: How do you intend to reinvent this office? What will be your stamp on the presidency?
Pranab Mukherjee: That will depend on the situation prevailing at a particular point of time. You cannot predetermine it.
Sagarika Ghose: Is there a President who is a role model - Radhakrishnan, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain, Venkataraman?
Pranab Mukherjee: No, all of them have made their very valuable contribution but perhaps it would not be correct to say who could be the role model because Constitution is a living document which has to be implemented, put in application. Therefore, a President is a custodian of the Constitution. Therefore, you will have to always review him. So situation that prevailed in 50s or 60s may not have relevance today, situation which are having relevance today may not have after 20 years.
Sagarika Ghose: But who do you think was India's greatest President.
Pranab Mukherjee: I would not like to make any comment on that.
Sagarika Ghose: Is there a favourite cause, any particular cause which you would like to take up, like Kalam had science and technology, environment. Is there anything that you would like to take the nation's attention to?
Pranab Mukherjee: Certain Presidents have picked up certain ideas and pursued it, there is nothing wrong in it. Certain Presidents thought that their role is too defined in the constitution and to follow it totally like that. But every President has taken interest in development… because the situation is totally different from period to period. Therefore, it will depend on what situation you are operating.
Sagarika Ghose: One last question. Just the challenges that will face your presidency, like the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, which the Shiv Sena is saying you should take a stand on. How will you deal with these challenges?
Pranab Mukherjee: I can't share these things unless I join the office. I will have to study it.
Sagarika Ghose: Which political figure today inspires you the most, many say that it is Bedhan Roy.
Pranab Mukherjee: No, Dr Roy was a great personality. But I had the privilege to work with… First I started work with Arya babu and then I came into national politics and I was built up by Indiraji.
Sagarika Ghose: And are we going to see a large library in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Pranab Mukherjee: Of course there is a huge liberally.
Sagarika Ghose: And is there any quote you would like to leave us with, of your favourite poet, from Tagore or some one else.
Pranab Mukherjee: Not right now I would do it sometimes later. Thank you.