An active Pranab as prez not going down well with UPA II
Seventy-six-year-old Pranab Mukherjee has shown early signs of becoming an active president who will keep the government on its toes by forcing it to address the people's grievances. A "helpline portal" on the presidential website will help people register their complaints. The other major irritation for the UPA II is that Pranab Mukhjerjee has started interaction with the media.
The GoM on media is watching this new move by Mukherjee. A view is likely to be taken if the media interaction by the president takes a serious turn. A senior minister was surprised to hear that Ambika Soni was not present when president met the media inside the Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
Until now, he was always humble to give credit to Sonia Gandhi for the government's numerous flagship programmes. He has usurped all credit to himself for all these, but also for some of the major decisions by Indira Gandhi.
His new profile on the redesigned website of the president of India says he was "instrumental in spearheading critical decisions of the government on a range of issues such as administrative reforms, Right to Information, Right to Employment, Food Security, Energy Security, Information Technology and telecommunication, setting up of UIDAI, Metro Rail, etc. through chairmanship of over 95 groups of ministers."
It goes on to point out that "in seventies and eighties, he was instrumental in setting up the Regional Rural Banks (1975) and the EXIM Bank of India as well as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (1981-82)." If this were not enough, he even usurps the "Gadgil formula," calling it "Gadgil-Mukherjee formula" as "author of a modified formula for resource sharing between the centre and the states in 1991."
The Congress leaders are upset at Mukherjee showing as if he is the originator of all key decisions and not Sonia Gandhi or prime minister Manmohan Singh, while those in the government fear about implications of he trying to connect directly with the people as if he were the people's president.
He is a constitutional expert and hence knows very well that the constitution gives him the limited role as the president as it is the elected government led by the prime minister that deals with the people and hence the Congress leaders suspect Mukherjee is being led to the garden path by his long-time friend and now secretary to the president Omita Paul to help him become a super-PM through the new forum she created on the president's website for remaining directly connected with the people.
The Rashtrapati Bhawan has no machinery to attend to the complaints the president receives and hence its secretariat forwards them to the ministries concerned and departments. There is nothing wrong in inviting people to write to the president to "lodge a request or grievance."
But the president's website goes further. It has a separate link "View status" to keep checking the response which will come handy for Mukherjee to keep needling the government for response to every grievance he gets and thus start monitoring the government, a role not assigned in the constitution.
Former president APJ Abdul Kalam had also tried to get into a monitoring role by wanting the Rashtrapati Bhawan linked with all the district collectors' offices to keep a tab on them. The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however, fobbed off his request, pointing out that monitoring is not the president's job. APJ Abdul Kalam did not press further but Mukherjee is one who will not give up so easily.
The constitution provides him to act on the advice of the cabinet, but it is to be seen when he starts forcing his advices on the cabinet instead of saying "OK" to every cabinet decision. The constitution gives him power to send written advices to parliament and there should be no wonder if he exercises that power over the shoulders of the government if it refuses to yield to him.