Pranab Mukherjee, left, greeted by Chandigarh Police Superintendent Rajender Singh Ghuman in Chandigarh during a recent campaign stop (Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment/ without Jay’s permission)
More often than not one finds unexpected amusement in utterly trivial facts.
For instance, as India gets ready for a new president in the person of probably its most astute politician Pranab Mukherjee, it strikes me that the country has just entered 1935 in terms of the time when its first citizen was born.
This useless trivia does not tell me anything instantly but given time I can extract something out of it. Considering the very nature of this largely ceremonial office, it is understandable that there is next to no chance of anyone much younger, say in the late 40s or 50s, ever making the cut. The office of the president does require a strong understanding of India’s history, a solid command over its polity and at least working grasp of the country’s constitution. Not just that, its occupant also has to be someone who has lived a significant part of those elements as well.
One can fairly argue that someone who is 44 years old or for that matter 52 years old (just random numbers), while may amass the knowledge of history and the constitution, is unlikely to have internalized it all.
Mukherjee, born in 1935, is formidable on all three fronts and is regarded by many as a walking encyclopedia of things constitutional, legislative, political and historical. It is probably impossible to find someone with matching, let alone better, credentials. So it is just as well that he will be sworn in as India’s 13th president after easily winning the elections.
The office of the president is perhaps the only one which necessarily demands an older person seasoned by years in public life. While the office is not overtly political and does not demand that only politicians rise to occupy it, there is a certain advantage to having a person who brings together all the attributes that I spoke about. After all, at a time of a constitutional crisis it is always better to have an incumbent who is not going depend heavily on the advisors and scholars. In Mukherjee’s case, advisors and scholars face the risk of being made redundant. That’s not to say that he knows it all. Far from it, but in nine out of ten cases of any constitutionally challenging situation Mukherjee will be able to easily marshal his vast political, legislative, procedural, historical and constitutional knowledge.
India has not had a particularly serious constitutional crisis for a long time now. Although one can never rule it out, the odds of one occurring remain comfortably low. Given that, Mukherjee will be able to rightfully enjoy his five years in the overpowering opulence of a 300 plus room Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is an enviable fiefdom to which the very chosen few come and come to lord over.
Even if the incumbent chooses to be most frugal, the sheer moment of luxurious inertia that is intrinsic to not just the office of the president but the infrastructure surrounding it makes sure that a lot of the trappings and trimmings rub off.
As a sort of constitutional monarch of the world’s largest democracy, Mukherjee can legitimately exult a little bit in the privacy of his bathroom when he shaves on the morning of July 26, the day after formally taking over. On the other hand it is possible that there is an in-house barber who will do it for him, I mean shaving.