NEW DELHI, July 20: He has visited 23 States in the past 12 months and packs in about a dozen engagements and private meetings on a daily basis.
When he is not on the move, he uses his vast experience to guide all those who call on him at his imposing 340-room residence.
As Pranab Mukherjee completes one year in office, he has changed the perception that Rashtrapati Bhavan is a ‘retirement home’.
Even in his titular role, he is so involved with events that he is being called “the active President.”
But, even in his active participation, he is careful not to act beyond his mandate. He showed this when he rose to two major challenges – the December 16, 2012 gang rape and the mercy petitions of terrorists on his desk.
The astute politician that he is, he was able to counsel Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on the course to follow without overstepping his brief.
The criticism he faced over the “swift” disposal of the mercy petitions was silenced when Rashtrapati Bhavan responded by saying that the President does not believe in subverting the Constitution.
Mr. Mukherjee has combined in him K.R. Narayanan’s working style and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s people-friendly demeanour.
He recently issued a directive to do away with the prefix ‘His Excellency’, insisting only on ‘honourable’.
Soon after he took over, he chaired a meeting of Vice-Chancellors and Governors. He told the Governors to play an active role within the constitutional framework and focus on developing areas that have been ignored.
“He believes that the harbinger of change and the trajectory that the economy should take depend on the quality of higher education. In his view, quality and not quantity is the vanguard of economic growth,” said Dr. Thomas Mathew, Additional Secretary to the President.
The V-Cs were asked to draw up a road map so that Indian universities figure in the list of top 100 global institutions.
At the inauguration of the Indian Science Congress, his message to students and teachers was that: “It has been 83 long years since C.V. Raman won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Another Nobel Prize in science is long overdue.”
“He often speaks extempore. He passionately speaks to the youth about the changes that they can usher in. For instance, he is deeply concerned by the rising incidents of crime against women. He has been reiterating his views to ensure the young will listen and pay heed,” said Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President.
Political upheavals and pandemonium in Parliament have not gone unnoticed either by the man whose political career spans over five decades.
Inaugurating a think-tank by publishers of The Hindu, he cautioned against the culture of “disruption” that has been overwhelming Parliament.
“My political science teacher taught me the three Ds essential for democracy — debate and discussion, dissent and finally decision — but when I retired on the day of my election as President I found another D injected in between — disruption,” the President commented.
While his immediate predecessor Pratibha Patil created a record of sorts with her international travels, Mr. Mukherjee has so far been modest with his foreign visits, having only visited Bangladesh and Mauritius so far. He is due to travel to Turkey, Belgium and Bhutan though.
Mr. Mukherjee may have quit active politics, but that has not limited his access to the people. He reaches out by going on tours, giving speeches and holding meetings behind closed doors. Trips are usually wound up in a day.
Social networking sites like Facebook are being used to forge connections. With 35,544 likes, the President’s page on Facebook at last count had 1,941 people “talking about” it.
When a group of women political leaders and activists called on him after the December 16 gang rape, they went back reassured that the President was already seized of the matter.
“I have a granddaughter of the same age, you need not tell me anything. I am more concerned…,” he is reported to have told the delegation.
Rashtrapati Bhavan has also been thrown open to the public. People can now visit the place three days a week and get to see the refurbished areas that were not open to the public.
Extensive restoration work is being undertaken under the supervision of Omita Paul, Secretary to the President.
President Mukherjee’s second year in office is expected to be more eventful if no party or alliance wins a clear majority in the 2014 general elections.