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Tradition meets pomp as Pranab sworn in president

Wednesday July 25, 2012 05:33:57 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: India Wednesday got its 13th president in seasoned politician Pranab Mukherjee in a function replete with traditional grandeur and ceremony. The country's first citizen swore to rise above partisan politics in the conduct of his high office.

Mukherjee, 76, attired in a black sherwani and churidar, was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia at 11.28 a.m. inside the central hall of parliament.

The ceremony saw the president's mounted bodyguards, resplendent in their livery of white and with dark turbans to match, give the national salute and 1,000 members of the three services lined along Raisina Hill road to give the 'Hazar Salam' or thousand salute to the president - the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Mukherjee, who till June 28 was India's finance minister, looked serious throughout the ceremony and broke into a smile only when waving to camerapersons from a horse-driven presidential buggy after he inspected his first guard of honour as president in an open jeep.

In his first speech as president, Mukherjee, who has a five-year term, said his high office demands that he rise "above personal or partisan interests in the service of the national good".

He said for India to progress and for "development to be real the poorest of our land must feel that they are part of the narrative of rising India".

In a brief speech marked by high prose, Mukherjee said: "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."

In his speech, Mukherjee dwelt on hunger and poverty, saying "there is no humiliation more abusive than hunger".

He also dwelt on terrorism, terming it the fourth world war with the Cold War being the third and stressed on education as the "alchemy that can bring India its next golden age".

He touched on corruption, terming it as an evil "that can depress the nation's mood and sap its progress".

Among the dignitaries present at the swearing-in ceremony were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, opposition leader L.K. Advani and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who decided to back Mukherjee's candidature just two days before the poll.

Mukherjee moves into the 340-room Rashtrapati Bhavan from his official bungalow on Talkatora Road. He will travel henceforth in a long black bomb-proof official Mercedes limousine - a far cry from the Ambassador car he used to travel in.

Earlier in the morning, outgoing president Pratibha Patil, attired in a cream and gold sari and her trademark full sleeved blouse, had her few last moments as the country's first citizen as she took the final guard of honour from the President's Bodyguards.

The new president accompanied the old to her temporary lodgings at No 2, Tughlaq Lane, a four-roomed house. She will be moving to Pune.

The official part of the ceremony began at about 10.50 a.m. when Mukherjee was brought to Rashtrapati Bhavan in a black limousine. After Mukherjee and Patil took the salute in the forecourt of the presidential palace, the two left for Parliament House in a slow-moving cavalcade and were given the Hazar Salam as they passed Raisina Hill.

Mukherjee, who won the July 19 presidential poll as the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate, has been India's finance minister, defence minister and foreign affairs minister, in his 40 years as politician.

He was a key member of the UPA and was chief troubleshooter for the coalition because of his excellent rapport with leaders of all political parties. He headed almost all ministerial panels with his vast fund of knowledge.

Before the swearing in, Mukherjee visited the mausoleums of Mahatma Gandhi, and former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.



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