Pranab Mukherjee is officially the 13th president of independent India, succeeding Pratibha Patil, the first woman to hold India’s highest elected office. Elected indirectly by almost 5,000 electorates with 69.3% of the vote, the process is very complex, factoring the votes of the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament), the Raiva Sabha (upper house of Parliament), and the votes of each state in the union.
A mainly ceremonial position, the President of India is nonetheless the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the protector of the Constitution, and the arbiter of parliamentary impasse’s, a frequent event in India’s colorful political history and a likely result of the upcoming 2014 elections.
The new president is the first to have been born in the populous northeastern state of Bengal, and is at the peak of a 40 year political career that started in his home state in 1969 with the Indian National Congress Party. His father was a member of the Congress Party, and spent ten years in British jails during the fight for independence.
Mukherjee has held many prestigious posts throughout his career, including Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, and Speaker of the Lok Sabha. His latest assignment, after having represented India at the World Bank, was Finance Minister for the current government led by Manmohan Singh. Mukherjee is a political veteran who knows the intricacies of the various party alliances, and the particular aspects of Indian parliamentary life. He is respected for his balance, caution, and negotiating skills.
Mukherjee will be a man of the institutions and not a partisan, even though his entire political career has been spent in the ranks of the Congress Party. He has carved out for himself a reputation as a prestigious independent, and was an initial supporter of Indira Ghandi. At the presidential elections he was the candidate of the governing party, and his election is seen as a victory for the United Progressive Alliance, whose majority hinges on the Congress Party.
After a few electoral failures, the UPA has consolidated the coalition and gained the votes of the communist party and other important local parties in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. It was able to weaken the opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose candidate gained fewer votes than he had available on paper. It has been an important relief for the executive, and for Gandhi’s party, although the upcoming political and economic challenges are shaping up to be even more difficult.