Sonia and Rahul Gandhi meeting their party's stalwart of many decades -- President Pranab Mukherjee -- is not unusual, but the timing of their visits is, notes Sheela Bhatt
President Pranab Mukherjee met Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Friday, October 19, a day before he was to fly to Bengal for a four-day visit.
The series of VVIP visits to the President is construed as abnormal, which raises a question; is there something more than meets the eye?
"I can only say that President Mukherjee is very upset with the way the government and other political leaders are facing the wrath of the media on television. He is concerned about the nation and wants to know many things," a source close to the President told Rediff.com.
When Mukherjee, who served as finance minister, shifted to Rashtrapati Bhavan, it was expected that he would go into political oblivion and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh would have the freedom within the government to do what he wished to do with economic reforms.
The prime space in the government's decision-making apparatus was unofficially occupied by Mukherjee instead of Dr Singh until the former's elevation to the Presidency.
Mukherjee's shadow stretched far beyond his ministry. He was the political brain, functioning within the government, for the Congress party. His role as ace troubleshooter was not hyped, but very real.
But it appears that even at Rashtrapati Bhavan, outside the political arena and away from party politics, Pranab Mukherjee has been at centre-stage this week.
At a time when the government has received constant flak, separate visits by Congress President and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, October 16, and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, October 18, has created a lot of buzz in the national capital.
Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari too met the President on Wednesday, October 17.
Most media reports suggest that the meetings at Rashtrapati Bhavan by three top Congress leaders was to discuss the Cabinet and ministerial reshuffle and the President's schedule in the coming days.
President Mukherjee will celebrate Durga Puja at his ancestral home, as he has always done.
While discussions on the swearing-in of new ministers, if and when the reshuffle takes place, can be held by the President and prime minister (they had an hour-long meeting), it does not explain Sonia and Rahul's visits at such a sensitive time.
Their meeting the Congress party's stalwart of many decades is not unusual, but the timing is.
A Rashtrapati Bhavan source, speaking on the condition that he would not be identified for this report, clarified that President Mukherjee had expressed his desire to see Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi's visit to Rastrapati Bhavan had been pending for a long time and was finally scheduled on October 18. This should not be seen as "part of some design," the source added.
One uncharitable assumption being discussed is that since President Mukherjee did not receive his party's unambiguous backing initially for his candidature in the Presidential election, the Congress is now taking efforts to remove the rough edges between him and the party.
Visitors to Rashtrapati Bhavan say, "President Mukherjee has a clear idea of 'things to do' in his tenure. His ideals are Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr S Radhakrishnan (India's first two Presidents). He is doing things with a 'sense of history'. He is in no mood to rebel. He will not be a Zail Singh! He will stick to the rule book and manage affairs."
The Congress party will face serious challenges in the coming two months. It is believed that the government is debating the best way to conduct the winter session of Parliament, which could commence after November 19.
It is likely that more than the Cabinet and ministerial reshuffle, the President's views were sought on the issues currently affecting the functioning of the government and ruling alliance.
The government finds itself under siege, and the onslaught by Arvind Kejriwal and the media on issues of corruption has derailed the government's plans to lift the economy.
The Congress's current worries about the "unpredictable support" of Uttar Pradesh-based political parties like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are known. The government will be vulnerable in the winter session of Parliament.
What will happen if Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress bring in a no-confidence motion on the FDI in retail issue? What would happen if under any other excuse voting takes place in the Lok Sabha?
Like the Trinamool Congress, if any other party withdraws support to the government on any issue, it will have to worry about running a minority government till 2014, when a general election is due.
The government will find survival not easy even if it survives on the floor of the House with the help of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
In the next few months the government will have to attempt some wily political balancing to create the ground to present next year's Budget. That will be a bigger challenge than moving ministers from one ministry to another or inducting a few new faces.
The President's political instinct, intellect and experience are needed for the government to tread carefully in the choppy political waters of New Delhi.
While conducting the coming session of Parliament several unpredictable events could occur. The way Kejriwal and the media have taken up issues of alleged corruption involving Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and BJP President Nitin Gadkari is unprecedented.
Surely, the visits of Congress dignitaries, public and not-so-public, to Rashtrapati Bhavan this week were not merely to fix the muhurat (auspicious time) for a ministerial reshuffle.