Pranab da, an enigma

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on November 16, 2017


The importance of the position of the First Citizen of the Republic is inestimable. Seen from this perspective, the elevation of the erstwhile Union Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, to the position should be applauded.

From a personal point of view, there is no gainsaying the fact that, after the presidential elections are over, the veteran Congressman will have achieved an ambition which is coveted by every single Indian but which is impossibly difficult to attain.

Never popular

However, even the elevation to the office of the President of the Indian Republic has another side to it, at least for Mr Mukherjee. In his long career as a politician, spanning more than four decades, the erstwhile Finance Minister has nearly always found entry into Parliament through the indirect electoral Rajya Sabha route ever since he made it to the upper house for the first time in 1969.

He had to wait till 2004 to win a Lok Sabha election from West Bengal — many say with the active cooperation of the Left Front, which would imply that he has never enjoyed popular support, certainly among the people of the State from which he hails. Entry to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan will also be through the electoral-college route which, thematically, is consistent with the electoral trajectory of his career.

It has been suggested that Mr Mukherjee’s carefully orchestrated exit from the political scene has been engineered by some people who do not want him to be around when the next Lok Sabha elections are held, in 2014. The critical question is, why? Is it because a leadership change is being contemplated by the Congress party in the years ahead — such a change is, in fact, inevitable — where Mr Mukherjee’s presence will be seen as more of a concern than otherwise?

Stalled economy

A secondary point is — given the faltering performance of the Indian economy and the general dissatisfaction of the industry and some technocrats in the Union Government over the direction emanating from North Block, it seemed impossible to impart a push to the economy with the erstwhile Finance Minister being around. The tone of the Prime Minister’s public and private statements on the need to rev up the economy, after he recently took over the reins pro tem at the Finance Ministry, seems to support this theory.

In other words, one view is that Mr Mukherjee has been shunted from the sphere of active politics to one of strictly non-political activity which, among other things, will ensure that he is not used by political operators, of whatever hue, to put a spoke into the wheel of the ruling dispensation.

After all, his metier lies mainly in dealing with people, which is why he was the chief troubleshooter for the Congress party at times of crises.

Constitutionally speaking, Mr Mukherjee, as the President (in the event he is elected), will have no role upfront to play in the political churning which is bound to take place in the years immediately ahead. But is he also barred from proffering wholesome advice to whoever approaches him for guidance?

The problem is that the new President may not agree to continue to be monopolised by the Congress party, which may spawn problems of a different sort altogether.

Published on July 03, 2012

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