Rashtrapati Bhavan&’s no gilded retirement home ~ Arati R Jerath
President Pranab Mukherjee seems determined to dispel the popular notion that Rashtrapati Bhavan is a gilded retirement home. Even as he accepts invitations to cut ribbons and address anniversary celebrations across the length and breadth of the country, he remains engaged with the world of politics, albeit as an elder statesman or a fatherly figure with a wealth of experience.
It means he has a hectic schedule that keeps him busy. Take his recent two-day flying visit to Darjeeling and Gangtok. His two-hour halt in Darjeeling spanned a protocol function where he addressed students of St Joseph’s School on their 125th anniversary, a private lunch with West Bengal governor M K Narayanan and a 15-minute one-on-one meeting with Gorkhaland activist Bimal Gurung. There are varying accounts of what transpired between the President and Gurung. The official version is that the Gorkha leader submitted a five-point memorandum and demanded a central university for his yet-to-be-born state. But Gurung told the press later that Mukherjee gave him political advice, telling him to return as chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. Gurung quit the GTA to renew the demand for Gorkhaland after the Congress nod to Telengana.
Half an hour later, the President was in Sikkim. In the three hours between his arrival and the Governor’s banquet in his honour, Mukherjee met as many as 12 delegations of different hues and persuasions. They included two delegations that wanted him to urge the central government to recognise the 17th Karmapa and permit him to take his rightful place as head of Sikkim’s famed Rumtek Monastery. A third delegation comprised of Congress workers who wanted a shoulder to cry on. Their complaint was that the party was virtually defunct in this tiny Himalayan state where Pawan Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front has been ruling since 1994.
Mukherjee has been clear from the start that he will be a constitutional President who plays by the book. So, when political delegations call on him, he listens but rarely steps out of line. Despite Mukherjee’s studied adherence to propriety, there are some who don’t quite understand why he entertains rival political delegations. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for instance, is reported to be unhappy over Gurung’s meeting with the President. But Mukherjee is very clear. His doors are open to all those who want to meet him, provided they are part of the democratic process. If R Venkataraman was a “thinking” President and Abdul Kalam a “people’s” President, Mukherjee will surely be remembered as a “political” President.

Yechury in the reckoning?
It looks like Sitaram Yechury has thrown his hat in the ring for the post of general secretary of the CPI(M). At a recent interaction with journos, he was asked whether he was an aspirant or not. Of course, he shot back. Who says I am not aspiring for the post?
It’s still unclear when the next general secretary will be elected. Due to a technicality, the election could either be next year, in 2014, or the year after, in 2015. But Prakash Karat is no longer a candidate for the post. The party’s constitution was amended some years ago to limit the general secretary’s tenure to not more than three terms. So, Karat will have to make way for somebody new. The CPI(M) is headed for big changes just before the crucial West Bengal assembly elections in 2016.

Confusion over Raju&’s role
No-one seems to know whether union human resource development minister Pallam Raju is still a minister or not. And it’s playing havoc with ministry events, functions and ceremonies. Raju, who hails from Seemandhra, quit the Manmohan Singh government in protest against the formation of Telengana. But his resignation has not been officially accepted. Consequently, there’s all round confusion.
For instance, Rashtrapati Bhavan had no clue till departure eve who would be representing the HRD ministry at the science exhibition President Pranab Mukherjee was due to inaugurate in Gangtok. The day before Mukherjee left Delhi, his office was informed that minister of state Shashi Tharoor would attend the function and could he please hitch a ride on the President’s plane?
This was not the first time that the HRD ministry had done this to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The previous week, it couldn’t decide who would attend the NIT conference being hosted by Rashtrapati Bhavan. Raju declined on the plea that he had resigned. Tharoor was approached but he was in Paris for a UNESCO conference. And the other minister of state Jitin Prasada was in his constituency. He said he could not return in time for the conference. Mukherjee had to host the conference without a ministerial representative from the nodal ministry.