New Delhi: Everyone believed President Pranab Mukherjee would play an important role after the Lok Sabha elections, by deciding which alliance to invite to form the government.
There were reports that Mukherjee himself was reading up on precedents and constitutional law in anticipation.
But with the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party winning a clear majority, there was no need for any of this.
On Friday, Mukherjee completes two years as President, and it is his absence in Parliament that is being felt more than his presence in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Indian National Congress, Mukherjee’s party, is facing its worst crisis ever. Congress leaders in both Houses have so far failed to make any impact. Other opposition parties, with numbers almost as many as the Congress’s, have drowned the party’s voice.
The party which fell short of the required number to claim the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha has not been able to convince the government to grant it the post. “If Pranab-da were here in Parliament, our demand would have been taken more seriously. No one could counter him when he quoted rules, regulations, precedence and constitutional provisions," said a senior Congress leader in the Lok Sabha who asked not to be identified.
Mukherjee, who oversaw a unique outdoor swearing-in ceremony for the new government (the first such in India’s history) has sought to make the Presidential home more accessible to public, even as he has tried to preserve its rich heritage.
The changes are visible in the 340-roomed, 200,000 sq. ft Rashtrapati Bhavan. The restoration and renovation work undertaken after Mukherjee took over in July 2012, has returned the Durbar Hall and the Ashoka Hall to their past glory. A new museum has been opened while a bigger one with 10,000 sq. metre size is in the pipeline for next year. The in-house library that is home to hundreds of tomes, including several rarities, has been restored and is being digitized. The oldest book in the library dates back to 1795.
Over 662,000 people visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan last year; the president’s official website received 171 million hits since its creation on August 2012; and Mukherjee has gained 102,000 followers on Twitter.
Mukherjee, 78, had been a non-controversial President, in sharp contrast to his last few years as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance government, where he had an uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the finance ministry.
“With the kind of knowledge, experience and expertise he has on Indian constitution and administration, his speeches could have given more insight on governance and intellectually stirring. He could have been more outspoken on key issues...more active," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst based in New Delhi. “The situation is such that he has become more a ‘signing’ president than an advising president."