Will Pranab be the most distinguished President?
Pranab Mukherjee has got the opportunity to perhaps become the most distinguished President India has ever had. There are many who believe that he would have made an excellent Prime Minister but the coveted position of the head of the government could never be his due to uncertainties of politics. And as he steps into his new role, he could well be on his way of setting the highest standard for the august office he holds.
Pranab Da’s greatest strength is that he takes over his new assignment from a position of great advantage. He is the first President of the country who has been both the leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha and subsequently in the Lok Sabha. He has headed the maximum number of groups of ministers and similarly led the maximum number of Parliamentary committees. He has seen politics from inside over the past 43 years and thus is one leader who knows more about the functioning of the government, Parliament and his erstwhile party than any of his contemporaries. He has friends across party lines and his strength lies in his first hand knowledge of events and also the Indian constitution. He is in fact ideally suited for the role he has assumed and there are not many people who can actually claim to know more about political matters than he does.
Pranab Mukherjee has during his campaign made it amply clear that India does not have an office of Executive President and as per our constitution, the President has to abide by the advice rendered to him by the council of ministers. He has during his active days in politics been responsible for giving directions to many recommendations made by the governments he has been a part of. He therefore realizes the sanctity of such counsel. But he is also in a position to guide many of his erstwhile colleagues in matters of the state though this has to be on an informal basis. In statecraft and in running of the governments, there are always several things, which happen in the background and never come to light till some biographer or autobiography reveals the going ons. It is difficult to say, what kind of background influence Pranab will have on the government of the day but it is easy to agree that whatever advice he gives formally or informally, it will be difficult to ignore. After all no one can match his understanding of the state affairs.
Pranab Mukherjee in his opening speech on Wednesday has reiterated his belief in certain issues such as eradication of poverty and hunger as also the fight against terrorism and corruption. He has sounded a note of caution for those “who out of greed were holding back the development of the country’’. In fact, Pranab Da’s speech today used the political idiom, which had close resemblance to the idiom of his self-confessed mentor and inspiration, late Indira Gandhi. In doing so, he has indirectly sent a signal that he would be endorsing any campaign or fight to eradicate poverty and hunger, something which no government can ignore even if it may have its own ways of going about things.
Political circles are very hopeful that the new President will help in restoring the credibility of the political class, which has suffered so much in the last decade or so. It should not surprise anyone that he could be opening the doors of constant inter action with MPs and MLAs who may get frequently invited to breakfast or tea sessions with the President for informal exchange of ideas. The frequency of the meetings between the President and Prime Minister as also with other political leaders may also increase thereby making the Rashtrapati Bhawan not a parallel power centre but a place where a lot of sound advice can be obtained or some thoughts shared. Given Pranab Mukherjee’s long relationship with the Prime Minister, the two can be expected to also discuss certain contentitious issues away from the public gaze and help in finding a solution. But one thing the new occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhawan can never be is a “rubber stamp’’ President, an expression used to describe some of his predecessors. He will always apply his own mind to issues and within the framework of the Constitution also compel the government to reconsider certain decisions he may find hard to endorse. If even after that, the government wishes to go ahead, he will not stand in the way. At another level, he will certainly like to be seen as a neutral President and not partial to any party including the one he was in till he became the Presidential nominee.
The biggest message of Pranab Mukherejee being elevated to the august office is that Indian democracy is as robust and vibrant as the best in the world. If someone like Dr Manmohan Singh who rose from humble beginnings could be the Prime Minister of the country, another person from an equally humble background is today the President. This is to wish Pranab Da a very successful tenure in office as the country’s head of state.