New Delhi, Nov. 5: Exit, His Excellency. Enter, Honourable President.
The home ministry will this week issue a circular saying the President should henceforth be addressed as “Honourable”, deferring to Pranab Mukherjee’s wish that the honorific “His Excellency” — a legacy of the Raj — be done away with. The circular will also apply to governors of states.
Once the change comes into effect, the nation’s First Citizen will be addressed as Honourable President — in the same way as ministers and MPs are addressed or referred to in official correspondence. In person, the constitutional head will be addressed as “Your Honour”.
Sources said the President’s office had conveyed last month that Mukherjee wished that the honorific “His Excellency” — meant for erstwhile viceroys — be discontinued and the President of this socialist republic be addressed in a more democratic fashion.
In Hindi, it would become “Rashtrapati Mahoday” instead of “Mahamahim”.
“We have a convention from the colonial times and there is no written word on it. Therefore, there may not be a notification for this change but only instructions passed in a short circular from the ministry of home affairs (MHA),” a source said.
The MHA is the nodal ministry on affairs concerning Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Vice-President.
Some, however, felt the convention could have been carried forward. “It is trivial,” former Nagaland governor Shyamal Dutta said. “There is a value of convention.”
India does not have a codified format that lists honorifics for positions in the government, although practices in Parliament, including how to address members, are codified.
Even in the home ministry’s Table of Precedence that lists in descending order the protocol for dignitaries at formal ceremonies, there is no honorific to qualify the President at the number one position. The US state department, on the other hand, has a list of frequently asked questions on protocol that even includes one on how to address the President on an envelope.
For instance, anyone writing a letter to Barack Obama will have to address it to “Dear Mr. President”, while on the envelope it will be just “Mr. President”.
But why does Mukherjee want to do away with “His Excellency”? It apparently reminds him of India’s loyalty to the monarch in England, though Rashtrapati Bhavan retains some other colonial legacies. The President’s Bodyguard, for example, was raised in 1773 by then governor-general Warren Hastings.
Mukherjee will, however, continue to be addressed as “His Excellency” before foreign dignitaries, sources said.