The black limousine, the mile-long cavalcade and the thoroughbred horses supplied the pomp as the 13th President of India stepped down to usher in the 14th. The end of Mukherjee’s tenure marked the end of an era of Congress dominance of the polity.
Ram Nath Kovind is the first BJP leader to become president. And having become one, he broke from tradition to directly address the nation, linking his personal passage from mud hut to Rashtrapati Bhawan to the nation’s tryst with destiny.
Canonization of Updhyaya
In Parliament, President Kovind’s speech was hotly debated in the Central Hall. The focus was as much on what he did not say as on what he did. That he put Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in the same bracket as Mahatma Gandhi was noted. The Jana Sangh ideologue’s canonization is complete today, said a BJP MP.
Kovind acknowledged Gandhi as the leader of the freedom struggle, Sardar Patel as the unifier of the Indian republic and Ambedkar as the maker of an egalitarian Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru was left out in the cold.
There was a nod to the marvel of a Constitution that enabled a Dalit to assume the highest office of the land. Kovind, however, omitted mentioning the other Dalit who became President before him, also after essaying a passage from the margins of society — K R Narayanan. This was understandable though: Narayanan had a rather difficult relation with Vajpayee, the first BJP PM.
Among his predecessors, Kovind acknowledged Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan, APJ Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee as worthy role models. The rest did not get a mention, including the first woman president, Pratibha Patil, who walked in late, after Kovind finished taking oath.
Pranab Mukherjee seemed to be everyone’s favourite. If Kovind mentioned him in fond terms, the PM called him a guiding light — “a father figure’’.
At the swearing-in ceremony, there were two prominent back-benchers: Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi, the latter making a statement by sitting with suspended Congress MPs M K Raghavan, Gaurav Gogoi, Sushmita Dev and Ranjeet Ranjan. Banerjee sat with Trinamool Congress MPs till Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal walked in.
The ghost of Bofors
Rahul Gandhi, tipped to take over the reins of his party, appeared rather blasé about the BJP plans to resurrect the Bofors scandal all over again. He was heard saying, “We’re not afraid. We’ve already fought them for 30 years, we’re ready to fight for another 30.”