New Delhi: The imminent change of guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan has meant that all political roads, at least for two days, lead to the capital.
A convergence of political leaders on this scale, where the occasion is more a platform for hobnobbing, was last witnessed when Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister. The big do organised by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to record the rollout of the goods and services tax did not match up as several political parties chose to skip it.
On Tuesday, president-elect Ram Nath Kovind, the candidate backed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will be formally sworn in as the 14th President of India.
On the sidelines, leaders are expected to engage informally to exchange notes on the latest political encounter between the government and the opposition: the choice of the president. Not only did the opposition fail to put up a credible challenge, it also suffered the ignominy of cross-voting from within its ranks.
Kovind won two-thirds of electoral college votes, helping the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to extend its dominance both inside and outside Parliament. Several non-NDA parties, which have been critical of the Union government opted to vote for Kovind and not Meira Kumar, former Lok Sabha Speaker and the opposition candidate.
The political parties breaking the opposition ranks and supporting Kovind included the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), a section of Samajwadi Party (SP), both factions of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK), a section of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) and YSR Congress.
BJP claims that at least 116 opposition members of Parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assembly (MLAs) cross-voted in favour of Kovind.
Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar will be swearing in the new President.
The ceremony will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi , cabinet ministers and opposition party leaders. The chief ministers of various states including Bihar’s Nitish Kumar and West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee are expected to be in attendance.
Analysts are not surprised that the occasion, ostensibly apolitical, will trigger some political confabulations on the side.
“Democratic traditions say that once elected to the post of President, a person is no longer a member of a political party. However, there is politics around the office of President and expectations (from different political parties) don’t cease to exist,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst.