By Ashima Makhija
With the expiration of President Pranab Mukherjee’s term on 24 July 2017, it is time to bid adieu to the Congress veteran who held several important portfolios like defence and railways before becoming the ‘first citizen of India’. On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi organised a farewell dinner for the outgoing President at Hyderabad House where his full Council of Ministers and selected members of other parties were present.
On Sunday, MPs are giving Mukherjee a send-off over high tea at the Central Hall, hosted by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. In the evening the outgoing President will address the nation and host a banquet for the PM, his council of ministers and others at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The non-BJP invitees
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the only Opposition chief minister present at the farewell hosted by the PM, even though the CMs of all states had reportedly been invited by the PM.
Other invitees included BJD and AIADMK party leaders, who had voted for Kovind in the presidential elections. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu were also invited. Both are BJP’s allies in the NDA.
Nitish Kumar’s growing intimacy with BJP
Nitish Kumar’s attendance of the farewell dinner is expected to inflict another wound on the sour relations between JD(U) and other Opposition parties. Kumar’s actions are increasingly pointing towards a growing convergence between JD(U) and BJP.
The Bihar CM’s decision to temporarily break away from the “mahagathbandhan” and declare his support for NDA’s presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, created political shock ripples throughout the country. He also openly supported the saffron party’s demonetisation move. On May 27, Nitish had attended a lunch hosted by Modi in honour of visiting Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, a day after he had skipped an Opposition meeting in Delhi.
The JD(U) conundrum: Widening cracks
As Janata Dal (United) is warming into a fuzzy relationship with the Centre, the “Grand Bihar Alliance” [comprised of JD(U), RJD and Congress] is in the throes of a political crisis due to the CBI raids on RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav’s premises over an alleged benami land deal.
The JD(U), in its efforts to portray a corruption-free image, has demanded that Tejaswi Yadav quit. This has been rejected by the RJD and the Congress. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had earlier spoken to the Bihar chief minister and to RJD Chief Lalu Prasad in an effort to prevent a collapse of the ruling coalition. Now, Rahul Gandhi has invited Nitish Kumar for tea, before the farewell dinner, to discuss the political tidings. Thus, the JD(U), both metaphorically and literally, is caught between Congress’ tea and BJP’s dinner.
Happy days ahead for the BJP
Meanwhile, Ram Nath Kovind’s term will complete the saffron party’s ascension of to power, as both the Head of State and Head of Government will now be from BJP. President Pranab Mukherjee will move out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan officially on July 25, making way for Kovind to take his place in the highest constitutional office of the country the same day.
After new President Kovind is sworn in on the morning of July 25, and Mukherjee and he have switched chairs, both of them will come down to the Central Hall of Parliament together where Kovind will make his acceptance speech. Following that, accompanied by a cabinet minister, Mukherjee will drive down to his new home in Lutyens’ Delhi at 10, Rajaji Marg, and Kovind will head for the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
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