Aam aadmi’s President

Semi Column

Rashtrapati Bhawan seems to have moved a few steps closer to the aam aadmi.

Pranab Mukherjee's decisions since he became President five months back suggest a democratisation of the institution and a conscious bid to make it more accessible to people.

The latest decision is to enable people to see the magnificent building from close quarters, through a once-a-week public viewing of the change of guard ceremony from within the Rashtrapati Bhawan grounds. On select days of the week, people will also be allowed into sections of the Rashtrapati Bhawan to acquaint themselves with the rich history of what has always been seen as a daunting edifice, a golden cage behind layers of security cordons and clearly out of bounds for ordinary people.

There have been other decisions which indicate that Mukherjee is keen to bridge the huge gap that exists between the people and the high office he holds. At the customary "at home" the President hosts on Independence Day, he did away with the security cordon and freely mixed with guests. He has now directed that all facilities at Rashtrapati Bhawan be fully utilised, as a result of which the guest wing for VVIPs and foreign dignitaries, among others, are being renovated.

The most significant move has been to do away with pompous honorifics such as "Mahamahim" and "His Excellency" while addressing him. Mukherjee opted for the familiar prefix "Shri", a switch that instantly drew widespread appreciation and reaffirmed his belief in the democratic system while illustrating his aversion for colonial era trappings. Unfortunately, governors have not opted to follow in his footsteps.

According to Rashtrapati Bhawan officials, this desire to bring the high office of President closer to the aam aadmi comes from his own humble roots and his upbringing as an ordinary village boy in a non-descript Bengal village. "I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable, changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi," he said in his acceptance speech after being elected President.

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