Pranab Mukherjee (Pic: www.pranabmukherjee.in)
India could not have found a more politically astute candidate as a nominee for the largely apolitical office of the president than its current Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The 78-year-old Mukherjee, who is more a political theorist than a politician, has just been nominated as the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s choice for the country next president. His election, by no means a fait accompli, is regarded as a reasonable certainty.
His eventual election would be a fitting conclusion to five decades of a mostly distinguished and serious political career that has given him a ringside view of the world’s largest democracy. Long used to being the quintessential number two and go-to man for all manners of political crisis management for the Congress Party, it is only fair that Mukherjee may now soon be able to be the master of his domain inside a 340-room presidential palace,the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Of course, as I said his election is not a fait accompli because presidential elections are often fraught with some truly sordid machinations behind the scenes. The convention is to make it uncontested in deference to the ruling party or alliance. However, in the past few days India has witnessed some unseemly pushing and shoving among ruling coalition partners over who should be nominated.
The office of the president is a largely ceremonial one which becomes decisive only in the event of extreme constitutional crises that might threaten to overtake the executive branch under the prime minister. While it is always possible for those situations to arise, they generally do not since the country’s polity has enough maneuverability built into it.
Mukherjee has headed major government departments throughout his career, particularly the ministry of finance as well as foreign affairs. He has also been a contender for prime minister for the past two decades or so but has never made it because of a strong streak of political independence which often does not go down well with the core leadership of his Congress Party.
Once a pipe smoking political theorist with a scholarly bent of mind, over the decades Mukherjee has acquired enough non-partisan political appeal to remain his party’s best troubleshooter. He is at an age where he would not mind leaving the rough and tumble of political deal making and instead lead a life of extraordinary privilege in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He has the commensurate weight and credibility to be the elder statesman of the country who rides above the fray.
A widely read man Mukherjee is also known for his photographic memory and near encyclopedic knowledge of the country’s politics and political history apart from the intricacies of the bureaucracy. If there is anyone over whose eyes it would be impossible to pull wool, it is Mukherjee. There is a fairly good chance that he will end up atop the Raisina Hill, the sprawling presidential estate in the heart of New Delhi.