The government has started making arrangements to help President Pranab Mukherjee settle down comfortably in the national capital, following his retirement 10 months later. A retired President in India, according to the President’s Pension Rule of 1962, is entitled to a rent-free accommodation anywhere in the country with free water and electricity for the remaining period of his life.
Taking baby steps for his post-retirement settlement, the Urban Development Ministry has asked former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma’s family to vacate the 34, APJ Abdul Kalam Road (erstwhile Aurangzeb Road) bungalow, which may become the new address of President Pranab Mukherjee after his tenure ends in July 2017.
But the political message from the development is that the BJP isn’t keen on giving Mukherjee an extension, as was being speculated in certain quarters. Nor is Mukherjee interested in a second term. The political controversy pertaining to former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s purported attempts to get a second term is fresh in public memory.
While parties like the AIADMK and Samajwadi Party wanted Kalam for a second inning – a move that was backed by the BJP in 2005, the Congress was critical of the idea and then Information Minister P R Dasmunshi had even flayed Kalam.
An old player in politics, Mukherjee has, though, avoided any direct confrontation with the BJP-led NDA government, thus fueling speculations of his interest in the second term. The truth is the President has often criticised the ruling establishment and forces associated with – for instance, during the ‘intolerance’ debate in 2015.
For its part, the Modi government will be more than willing to put its own man in President’s office – preferably a man with RSS ideological upbringing. But the BJP sources say the party is not yet decided on who shall be their candidate for the coveted post.
“The final decision will be taken by the BJP parliamentary board and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” a senior party leader told Narada News, adding that in all probability “the past tradition will be maintained and a new President may come in instead of granting a second term to the incumbent Rashtrapati”.
The country’s first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, has been the only president – who was in office for two tenures from 26 January, 1950 to 12 May 1962.
Moreover, born in 1935, President Mukherjee is already 81 and by next year will be 82. A section of BJP ministers like Sushma Swaraj and few colleagues of her may like to push for the candidature of party patriarch L K Advani, but 1927 born former Deputy Prime Minister and BJP chief will be 90 next year.
BJP sources indicate that Presidential candidates may be also decided from the group of incumbent Governors Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Ram Naik (UP), and Keshani Nath Tripathi (West Bengal) while the names of party veterans M M Joshi and M Venkaiah Naidu, too, could be considered. But PM Modi may spring a major surprise, too, and push some hitherto unconsidered underdog for the prize post, sources said. According to party insiders, Union Minister Kalraj Mishra and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan may be also in the reckoning.
“But a lot of it will depend on the fate of elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab early next year,” a source said, adding even the RSS may have its suggestions to make. According to sources, from among the opposition parties, the Congress party with its reduced strength may reconcile to back a united opposition candidate. Among those who could be considered figure Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav.