Pranab's era

Pranab's era

In Pranab Mukherjee, the Rashtrapati Bhavan will have a new occupant and the country a new President from Wednesday. In many crucial ways, Pranab’s election to the country’s highest constitutional office breaks a fresh ground in our political and constitutional practices. Never in the past has such a prominent political functionary of the ruling party of the day as Pranab has moved from a high position in the government to the Raisina Hill. No past president has ever enjoyed the kind of political stature that Pranab enjoys across the country’s political spectrum immediately preceding the election to the high office. Arguably, no past president has as much administrative experience as Pranab has to his credit, with him serving as a Union minister under three prime ministers over the last 40 years. He has been Manmohan Singh’s second-in-command in the UPA government and its chief troubleshooter for the past eight years. 

It wasn’t surprising at all that Congress and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi was reluctant to spare Pranab for the high office five years ago when he had made known his interest in the job. Even this time she was hesitant until her allies made a pitch for him and she realised that he was her clear bet to clinch the presidency for the ruling alliance. It is naïve to attribute this just because she might have been concerned about finding an able replacement for Pranab to handle myriad challenges that he has been handling in the government, UPA coalition and the Congress party.

In the past, active, outspoken, and seasoned leaders with proven administrative and political acumen have rarely been the choice of their political bosses – always the prime minister, except in the present case – for the highest constitutional post. Usually, the tendency has been to look for a lightweight candidate, because, at times, the presidency has acquired the not-so-respectable reputation as a “rubber stamp” institution. Pranab is most unlikely to become one. No incumbent prime minister will like to deal with an assertive president, who has a mind of his own and who knows better than most in the government about matters of administration, governance and the Constitution. In Pranab, the UPA government will have to deal with precisely such a president. An informed scrutiny of government decisions by the president is not such a bad idea and, time will tell if it works well for the health of our polity.       

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