It is suddenly quiet: there are no meetings to attend, no files to sign, he says
For United Progressive Alliance (UPA) presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee, the last three days, — after his whistle-stop countrywide tour ended on July 15 — have been a period of “reflection” at 13, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road, a Lutyens’ bungalow that has been his home since 1996.
Sitting in his Spartan study, beneath a large portrait of his mentor, Indira Gandhi and flanked by a smaller one of her with a young Pranab, he is in a reminiscent mood, talking to a group of journalists, recalling the many official residences he has occupied during the years — from 2, Jantar Mantar Road, to 11, Ashoka Road (for many years, the BJP office) to 7, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road, to his current home.
It was only between 1986 and 1996 he lived in his own home in Greater Kailash. Didn’t he ever want to move to a larger bungalow (13, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road is a modest-sized bungalow for someone who was number two in the government)? “Mrs. Mukherjee,” he smiles and says, “didn’t want to move.”
On Wednesday, on the eve of the presidential election, Mr. Mukherjee is gearing up for what will, in all likelihood, be his new job, seeking inspiration in the “speeches and writings” of the distinguished former President, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He says he has just learnt that Dr. Radhakrishnan, in his acceptance speech, announced that the government would be conferring Bharat Ratna on his predecessor, India’s first President, Rajendra Prasad.
After the whirlwind campaigning and the 24x7 schedule of his political life in the last four decades, it is suddenly quiet: there are no meetings to attend, no files to sign, he says, no Groups of Ministers to preside, even though the stream of visitors is unending. For his personal staff, it’s a moment to savour, as they prepare to move into the big house around the corner.
Clearly, Mr. Mukherjee — a stickler for rules — is preparing his mind for the drill to be followed in the next week or so, from the voting slated for Thursday, to the grandeur of the swearing-in ceremony on July 25 in the historic Central Hall of Parliament, to the “exchange of chairs,” the acceptance speech, the ride to Rashtrapati Bhavan with outgoing President Pratibha Patil, where both will receive separate guards of honour, interspersed by a cup of tea inside. The new president will then escort the outgoing President to her new residence on Delhi’s Tughlak Lane. (This, of course, will be a temporary home for Ms. Patil, because she will eventually move to Pune, when her post-retirement home there is ready.)
Mr. Mukherjee will be the third sitting MP to become President — those who preceded him were Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Zail Singh. And he will be the first Leader of the House (Lok Sabha) to make the transition to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The phone rings — it is a call from a relative and he responds, “Yes, this morning I was thinking of Ma, too,” — and then becomes quiet for a moment. For the boy who grew up in a remote village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, it’s been a long journey.