India: Is Mukherjee the Man for the Job or Just Kicked Upstairs?
The 76-year-old Pranab Mukherjee has just been elected president of India and this is no surprise, as the Congress Party-led coalition had ample votes to install the party stalwart.
The new president has the confidence of party president Sonia Gandhi of the Nehru-Gandhi clan that has dominated the party since independence. He has also held a variety of top posts – foreign Minister, defense minister and he's currently leaving the post of finance minister.
This, however, leaves his selection open to two conflicting interpretations.
The favorable interpretation is that in his stepping stones to the culminating job in his political career, Mukherjee has built a network of foreign acquaintances that will assist him in representing India on state visits and in receiving foreign leaders in this ceremonial post.
During his political career, the new president acquired a reputation as a Mister fix-it by helping to solve disputes within the Congress party and within the government coalition. Therefore. without tarnishing the presidency with partisan politics. he is equipped to be a mediator and a peacemaker.
The less favorable interpretation is that he is being kicked upstairs to the presidency because the Indian economy is not healthy and national elections are on the horizon.
The President-elect was in charge of 24 of 39 ministerial groups dealing with state owned companies, highways, power projects and what have you. Despite his activity India's growth rate has halved and the budget is in the red.
His replacement will be the 79-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will combine the two hats. Singh was a success in the early 1990s and the question now is whether at his age, he can perform an encore. To do so, he will have to cut subsidies, a risky measure before elections, and open up sectors to competition.
That would perhaps galvanize investments.