» News » India of 2012: Swearing-in of a President, and swearing at him

India of 2012: Swearing-in of a President, and swearing at him

By Sheela Bhatt
July 25, 2012 19:20 IST
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Metres away from the pomp and regalia of Parliament's Central Hall, at the time the 13th President of the republic was being sworn-in, a bunch of battle-weary protestors were girding up to take on the might of the Indian State, reports Sheela Bhatt 

New Delhi, which is suffering an acutely humid climate, has witnessed two shows on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. In the event inside Parliament on Wednesday, Pranab Mukherjee became the 13th President as Pratibha Devisinh Patil rose from her chair to offer it to her successor. The formal ceremony took place in the Central Hall of Parliament.

The hall, and the event that was unfolding, symbolised the Indian State's strength, stability and continuity. The transfer of power was formal in the pompous, very colonial and somewhat boring ceremony. People on the dais and in front of the dais were pragmatic people who run India and play politics without upsetting the power structure.   

But, outside Parliament, just two streets away at Jantar Mantar, Anna Hazare and his team started a dharna and indefinite fast. They want to shake the Central Hall crowd to its core. The scene at Jantar Mantar was anything but formal. The people in Central hall would call Team Anna anarchic but at Jantar Mantar, the Team Anna leaders hardly cared for the ceremony and the importance it had. This is the India of 2012. Divided, polarised and disconnected. 

At the protest site, Arvind Kejriwal's team had covered the photograph of Pranab Mukherjee with a cloth as, Kejriwal alleged, the Congress was covering the allegations against its leader. He said, "According to the Constitution, the President has immunity against any investigation. We have given evidence against Mukherjee to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi two months ago, but there was no probe. In the name of the Constitution, the government has masked the allegations against him. We condemn this."

Kejriwal's tirade against the government will dominate in the coming days. Inside the Central Hall, the ceremony moved on as best as it could.

Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling coalition, was in the front row, dressed in a cement-gray sari and white blouse. Seen through traditional eyes, such pastel colours are not regal enough to express delight at seeing a Congressman of 45 years' standing entering Rashtrapati Bhavan. Was she in a gray mood, too?  May be or may be NOT. In Central Hall she was one of the most inscrutable leaders.

Rahul Gandhi, the second-most powerful man in the Congress after her, was sitting on the second last bench in his trademark kurta-pyjama and talking to Nirmal Khatri, Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh. He never smiled. Mamata Banerjee, the woman who gave some anxious moments to Pranab Mukherjee and whose rebellion forced Sonia Gandhi to declare Pranabda as her Congress nominee for President, was occupying the last bench.

The governors were seated after the rows of ministers. MK Narayanan, former National Security Advisor, was, obviously, the most sought after and still seems to be influential. Even P Chidambaram went up to his chair to chat with him.

From the Bharatiya Janata Party, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were there but, surprisingly, the Central Hall was NOT jam-packed.

Most of the MPs who supported PA Sangma were not there. Suvra Mukherjee, wife of President Mukherjee, was in the front row sitting next to Chief Justice SH Kapadia's attractive wife Shahnaz. Surva suffers from acute arthritis and is unable to walk. She came in a wheelchair and was unable to move much. It seems that she may not be able to take part in most official, formal ceremonies.

Home Secretary RK Singh, who conducted the ceremony, spoke fine Hindi because he is from Bihar. His Hindi announcement had the sound of authority.

Mukherjee, in his speech on assumption of office of President, said, "The principal responsibility of this office is to function as the guardian of our Constitution. I will strive, as I said on oath, to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution not just in word but also in spirit."

He said, "We are in the midst of a fourth world war; the third was the Cold War, but it was very warm in Asia, Africa and Latin America till it ended in the early 1990s. The war against terrorism is the fourth; and it is a world war because it can raise its evil head anywhere in the world."

He also spoke on hunger, saying there was no humiliation more abusive than hunger.  

Giving a personal touch he said, "I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable, changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi. I was a boy when Bengal was savaged by a famine that killed millions; the misery and sorrow is still not lost on me. We have achieved much in the field of agriculture, industry and social infrastructure; but that is nothing compared to what India, led by the coming generations, will create in the decades ahead."  

He quoted Swami Vivekananda while ending his speech. He said, "As Swami Vivekananda in his soaring metaphor said, India will be raised, not with the power of flesh but with the power of the spirit, not with the flag of destruction, but with the flag of peace and love. Bring all the forces of good together. Do not care what be your colour -- green, blue or red -- but mix all the colours up and produce that intense glow of white, the colour of love. Ours is to work, the results will take care of themselves."

His speech was more in tune with the Indira Gandhi generation.

As soon as the speech got over and the event ended, most journalists were busy asking about the next moves of the Congress in response to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's displeasure. Congressmen were claiming that by the evening the issue will be settled amicably without the advice of  Pranab Mukherjee! 

The question being asked now is, will President Mukherjee remain apolitical?  

Harish Khare, eminent journalist and former media advisor to Dr Singh, in his column in The Hindu titled 'Beware the Ghost of Zail Singh', has written, 'Somehow it is not easy to stub out a premonition that his presidency will end up creating a miasma of constitutional and political unhappiness.'

Khare says that over the last two years, Mukherjee was on a losing political wicket. Many in Central hall, too, must have been finding it difficult to see a highly political personality becoming rashtrapati. Something was amiss. Khare argued that the ideal President is one who is a source of wise counsel to the prime minister, and resists the temptation of becoming a rival power centre

Khare said it all when he concluded his column thus, 'The Indian republic finds itself at a crossroads when every institution is seeking to maximise its reach and influence at the expense of the executive. It would be doubly unfortunate if the Pranab presidency too allowed itself to become a source of political distraction. A word of caution is not out of place as President Mukherjee starts his much deserved relaxation in Rashtrapati Bhavan.'

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