Former President of India dies after Covid diagnosis

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Pranab Mukherjee rejected 30 mercy petitions from death row convicts as president

(BBC) India’s former president Pranab Mukherjee has died 21 days after it was confirmed that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The 84-year-old was in hospital to remove a clot in his brain, when it was discovered he also had Covid-19.

Before serving as president between 2012 and 2017, Mr Mukherjee held several important portfolios during his 51-year political career.

These included the finance, foreign and defence ministries.

His son Abhijit confirmed the the news in a tweet.

The job is largely ceremonial but becomes crucial when elections throw up fragmented mandates. The president decides which party or coalition can be invited to form a government.

Mr Mukherjee didn’t have to take such a decision because the mandate was clear during his presidency. But he showed his assertiveness in other decisions, such as rejecting the mercy petitions of several people who had been sentenced to death.

Mr Mukherjee also served on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Most of his career was with the Congress party which dominated Indian politics for decades before suffering two consecutive losses in 2014 and 2019 to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr Mukherjee joined the party in the 1960s during the tenure of then prime minister Indira Gandhi who he had described as his mentor.

In 1986, he fell out with the Congress leadership and started his own political party, but returned two years later.

A parliamentarian for 37 years, Mr Mukherjee was widely known as a consensus-builder. Given that consecutive governments before 2014 were built on coalitions, this was an important and valued attribute.

However, Mr Mukherjee’s larger ambition – of becoming India’s prime minister – was never realised.

He was overlooked for the post twice – after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and after his party’s unexpected election win in 2004.

Manmohan Singh, a trained economist who was chosen as the prime minister, later said that Mr Mukherjee had every reason to feel aggrieved. “He was better qualified than I was to become the prime minister, but he also knew that I have no choice in the matter,” Dr Singh said.