Pranab Mukherjee is escorted by Belgium’s King Philippe on his arrival at Brussels on Wednesday. (PTI)
Brussels, Oct. 3: If Belgium gives a “home-away-from-home” feeling to President Pranab Mukherjee, it will not be because of diamonds but because of a recent record of a 589-day constitutional lockdown.
India has had no such history but every general election carries with it uncertainties that sometimes make the President’s job decisive.
Mukherjee, who flew out of an ordinance controversy back home and jetted into the tiny European powerhouse, may well take lessons from Belgium’s King Philippe and his father Albert II who steered the country through nearly two years of political instability when negotiations over forming a coalition government dragged on.
If the ordinance gave the Indian President an uneasy moment, the general election could throw up several such if it throws up a hung House.
A reminder came in Brussels today. Speaking at a luncheon reception for Mukherjee, Baroness Sabine De Bethune, the president of the Belgian Senate, said: “2014 will be crucial for both Belgium and India as both countries go the polls then.”
Both Philippe and Albert are close friends of Mukherjee. For 20 months stretching till the end of 2011, the day-to-day affairs of this multi-ethnic nation of 12 million people were tended to by an interim government run by a former Prime Minister and overseen by the titular monarch.
The main political parties were then slugging it out over everything from the Flemish collaboration with invading Germans during World War II to allegations of Walloon cultural imperialism seeking to impose the French language on the Flemish people of Belgium.
The Walloons, who make up around 45 per cent of the populace, speak French and usually support socialist parties like the Parti Socialiste (PS). The majority Flemish speak Dutch and tend to support conservatives such as the Christian Democrats and the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie.
The parties eventually cut across ethnic and political lines to form a coalition government under PS’s Elio Di Rupo, with whom Mukherjee is slated to discuss a range of issues, including India’s diamond trade and tie-ups between Indian and Belgian universities.
The King, along with Queen Mathilda, received Mukherjee and his daughter Sharmistha at the airport.
Throughout his 20 years of reign, Albert II faced a series of political challenges during which he sometimes played the role of mediator. But 2010 and 2011 stand out as there was no elected government in Brussels and he had to play a proactive role by holding regular consultations with party leaders, accepting and sometimes refusing resignations and appointing several political figures.
Albert II finally hung up his boots, demitting his constitutional office in favour of the crown prince, Philippe, on July 21 this year.
Mukherjee wrote in the “Golden Book” — the visitors’ book at the Belgian lower house of Parliament: “India shares with Belgium the tradition of parliamentary democracy and the parliaments of both the countries cherish common values of rule of law, freedom of expression, protection of human rights and support for multi-cultural societies through respect and promotion of rights and freedom of various communities.”