Indian MPs plan President Pranab Mukherjee’s farewell
New Delhi, India - Indian parliamentarians are readying for a gala farewell for Pranab Mukherjee, who demits the office of the president of India on Tuesday.
The event, which will be held on Sunday in the Central Hall of Parliament, is one of the many lined up for the outgoing President, whose record of rejecting mercy petitions (30) is unparalleled among his four immediate predecessors and, in the history of the Indian republic, is second only to president R Venkatraman, who rejected 45 mercy pleas.
Mukherjee, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was given a farewell by the Chiefs of Staff Committee on Friday.
In a simple function held at the Manekshaw Centre, the President interacted with senior military officers.
In his farewell address, Mukherjee extended his best wishes to all members of the armed forces and their families. He also paid tributes to the martyrs and their families for their sacrifices for the nation.
Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley along with the service chiefs and other senior officers attended the banquet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also hosted a farewell dinner for the President in Hyderabad House on Saturday.
Mukherjee will be replaced by Ram Nath Kovind, who was elected the new president from the bottom of the Hindu caste system on Thursday, only the second time since independence a head of state has been chosen from the marginalised group.
Ram Nath Kovind won the largely ceremonial position with more than 65 per cent of the vote by members of India’s parliament and state assemblies, the election commission said.
The 71 year old former lawyer and state governor from the downtrodden Dalit community was nominated by Modi’s ruling party for the post.
Analysts said the election of Kovind would help Modi tighten his grip on power and accrue political capital by sending an important message to the Dalits, a long-disdained electoral group once known as ‘untouchables’.
The opposition Congress Party also put forward a Dalit candidate, a former parliamentary speaker Meira Kumar.
But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assembled enough electoral college votes to push through its candidate and the outcome was expected.
‘Congratulations to Shri Ram Nath Kovind Ji on being elected the President of India! Best wishes for a fruitful and inspiring tenure,’ Modi wrote on Twitter.
Kovind, in a sobering address after being declared presidentelect, said it was an ‘emotional moment’.
“It has been raining in Delhi since morning, and reminds me of my childhood in our ancestral village home, where we siblings used to huddle around the walls to avoid water from the leaking roof when it rained,” he said.
“Even today the country will have so many Ram Nath Kovinds working as daily wagers, farmers... sweating for their next meal. I want to tell them that I am going to the ‘President House’ as their representative.”
Celebrations erupted in Kovind’s home state of Uttar Pradesh with drumming and cheering in cities and villages.
Dalits, who number around 200mn in the nation of 1.3bn, are among India’s poorest communities and relegated to the margins of society.
Despite legal protection, discrimination is rife and Dalits are routinely denied access to education and other advancement opportunities. Kovind said his election to the highest office of the land underscored the strength of India’s democracy. “I never thought or aimed for this office... I will work to protect the Indian constitution,” he added.
Kovind will be sworn in as India’s 14th president on Tuesday, as Pranab Mukherjee’s fiveyear term draws to a close.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah (right) greets India’s President-elect Ram Nath Kovind (centre) during a ceremony after the latter’s election, in New Delhi on Thursday