Millennium Post

President’s prime dilemma

President’s prime dilemma
In 2012 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opposed the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee, then finance minister in Manmohan Singh’s government, tooth and nail for a tenure in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. On both sides of the divide, Pranab’s candidature was looked at in terms of how he would handle the situation in case a hung Parliament emerged following the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Though the popularity of the Manmohan Singh government had started to wane, the upswing in the BJP’s fortunes were yet to be adequately visible. Those in the Congress thought that Pranab could be a good bet to organise a ‘pliable’ government to hold fort at South Block. On the other hand the opinion in the BJP war-room was that the old fox, who cut his teeth in the minefield of West Bengal politics, could deny them the opportunity to form the government, if the possibility had emerged.

Alas, in 2014 Pranab’s prodigious intelligence at playing the Indian Machiavelli did not get the chance to test itself, as one Mr Narendra Modi led the BJP to a historical victory with the saffron party getting a majority on its own in the House. In the coming days, as we hacks get-together to pen our opinion of how the Narendra Modi government has performed in the past six-months, it’s also important to analyse how the Prime Minister has managed his relations with the resident of the palace on Raisina Hill.

Having a comfortable majority ordinarily precludes any irritants in the relationship between the President’s House and the Prime Minister’s Office. The only time Mukherjee could have felt some pressure so far was when the move to replace the Congress appointed governors began. However, instead of counselling the government he decided to dismiss some of his long time party colleagues.

No wonder this gesture invited, albeit indirectly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effusive praise of President Pranab Mukherjee. On his birthday last week, the Prime Minister tweeted, “Warmest birthday greetings to our dear Rashtrapati ji, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. May he remain in the best of health and lead a long life,” and went onto add, “It takes just one interaction with Pranab Da to marvel at his intellect, sharp mind, deep knowledge and insight on a wide range of issues.”

The aforementioned tweets generally gel with the general perception about Mukherjee. But when the Prime Minister says, “Pranab Da has given his life to India. Few can match his political experience and stature. We are honoured to have a President like him,” it certainly calls for an inquest. Those who closely follow Indian politics would aver that Mukherjee’s contribution is substantial but nothing like “giving life for the country”.

On his birthday last week, Pranab, some may say, in a way reciprocated to the Prime Minister’s gestures by releasing his book The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years. While newspapers rushed to give headline to the numerous previews of the book that indicated the man has finally decided to say quits to his loyalty to Indira Gandhi and her Khandaan, the book in fact delves more on the conflict between the Right and the Left of the Centre strands in Indian politics.

In times when the Modi Sarkar is calling all shots, Pranab’s image managers may find it convenient to project the book in a way to suit the Prime Minister’s palate. However, it is not that clear a soup. Not to forget that the Prime Minister this year did not attend his predecessor’s martyrdom day ceremony and instead used the occasion to push the image of her father Jawaharlal Nehru’s political rival Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

It’s not just Patel, whom this government has projected. The Prime Minister, and I am not grudging him for it either, has been very reverential in his tweets in recalling contributions of all such leaders who fell out either with Jawaharlal Nehru, like C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and Indira Gandhi, or the likes of Inder Kumar Gujral, who later piggy-rode on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s electoral sinews to become Prime Minister for a brief period.

Are the Prime Minister’s expressions of reverence for Pranab Mukherjee in anticipation that the grand old man would too become a Nehru-Gandhi basher? The answer to this question is not easy. Pranab Mukherjee, like several other Indian politicians, too has sired children with political ambitions. His son Abhijit Mukherjee is already in the Lok Sabha on the Congress ticket. His daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee has shown the inclination to enter Delhi’s city politics and contest the upcoming assembly polls on a Congress party ticket.

Those who follow politics in West Bengal say that Pranab Babu charmed both Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee and the Left Front to facilitate passage of his son, who does not carry either his father’s intellectual finesse or personal warmth, to Lok Sabha. Though it would have been blasphemous in earlier times to raise such queries for the country’s first citizen, but there is a curiosity if Mukherjee would be able to manage a similar passage for her daughter too in the upcoming Delhi assembly polls.

Does that mean that he would remain loyal to his party and its leader family? Well if the occasion arises to give proof of loyalty, he can always forward his book, which also mentions that Jaya Prakash Narayan, Indira’s principal opponent, was soon to realise that he was being manipulated by the right-wing elements in the Janata Party. Frustration with the Janata government and ill health made JP withdraw but not before he had wished Indira luck for return to office, which she did with some aplomb in 1980, as Pranab’s book recalls.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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