President Pranab Mukherjee confers an award on a student of the Ved Pathsala at Tirupati on Sunday. (RB-Photo)
Tirupati, Sept. 9: President Pranab Mukherjee today spoke freely on contemporary issues of governance, economy and politics, which his predecessors rarely did but which has become his wont. But like always, he took care not to drift into the government’s domain.
Even when he offers political advice, Mukherjee ensures his words are couched in theoretical terms and sound more like guidance rather than partisan intervention.
His decision to talk to the media on raging political issues on his first visit outside New Delhi would have alarmed traditionalists who like to see the ceremonial head of state practise a degree of aloofness.
But Mukherjee has already shown clear signs of activism, and his aides agree that it would be naïve to expect him to stay detached from national and global realities.
Mukherjee told journalists accompanying him to Chennai and Tirupati that pessimism would not help in these difficult times: what was needed was confidence in the system.
Commenting on the stalled monsoon session of Parliament, he hoped the government and the Opposition would evolve a mechanism to ensure that democratic institutions weren’t weakened.
For a moment he seemed to come tantalisingly close to his former political role as the Congress’s chief trouble-shooter. He started speaking like a finance minister, supporting the government’s policies and giving statistical details.
But he refused to respond when asked about the reversal of his policies on retrospective tax (in the Vodafone case) and the GAAR. “It is for the government to formulate policies,” he said.
When The Telegraph asked whether he still itched to go to Parliament every morning, he laughed heartily and said: “It is true I took my parliamentary duties very seriously. Even now I watch the proceedings on TV.”
He again dived into the field of politics, answering a question whether the winter session too might be a washout. “It depends on how the parties and the members behave,” Mukherjee said. But he again restrained himself when asked about the possibility of early polls.
At one point, asked why his speeches seemed more prime ministerial than presidential, Mukherjee said: “I cannot compare my speeches with anybody else’s….”
Yesterday, too, he had asked the judiciary to exercise self-restraint. In a message to the Madras Chambers of Commerce, he bluntly asked businessmen to stick to ethics and work for social causes.
But he took care not to seem to be criticising the business community. “Nothing can be more dangerous than negative sentiments in your ranks,” he said.
These are early days but the signs of the emergence of a powerful presidency are visible. The kind of reception he received in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are usually reserved for mass leaders, which he never was.
There were hundreds of posters and hoardings in Chennai, a state ruled by a Congress adversary, and people lined the roadsides. In Congress-ruled Andhra, the numbers grew to thousands and the hoardings spoke of his dynamic and inspiring leadership and his role in strategy-making to ensure India became a world leader.
When Mukherjee travels to his home state on September 14, he might be tempted to compare his reception there with the rousing welcome he received in Tirupati where he prayed to Lord Venkateswara along with his daughter-in-law and grandson.
Asked if his visit was part of thanksgiving for becoming President, he only said: “When I came to Chennai, I thought I should come here to offer prayers.”
He performed puja at the temple with over three dozens priests in attendance, a rarity even for VVIPs at the busy shrine. Mukherjee also visited the Ved Pathsala, where the mantras chanted by hundreds of young Vedic scholars seemed to add a soothing touch to his taxing, two-day whirlwind tour.