HE President? Nope, Shri Mukherjee

Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, Oct. 9: The First Citizen today stepped closer to the man in the street while deciding to keep away from him.

President Pranab Mukherjee will stay put within Rashtrapati Bhavan as far as possible to avoid causing traffic snarls in the city and inconveniencing people, a statement from his office said.

It added that Mukherjee had expressed a preference for the traditional Indian "Shri" over the colonial honorifics of "His Excellency" and "Hon'ble", and officially effected a change in the protocol for addressing Presidents.

"Taking into account the inconvenience caused to the public during his movement within the city and in order to reduce the burden on police and other agencies, the President has instructed that, to the best extent possible, all functions (requiring his presence) be organised within Rashtrapati Bhavan premises itself," the statement said.

An official in the President's secretariat said: "We will try to organise the functions by utilising the facilities available in the President's estate to their full capacity. But venues like Vigyan Bhavan, located in largely traffic-free areas, are acceptable."

Mukherjee had made his first intervention on the matter of honorifics just before he attended the Lalit Narayan Mithila University's convocation on October 3. His office asked the institution to replace "His Excellency" and "Hon'ble" with "Shri" on its invitation cards.

Today's press statement said these changes had now been institutionalised.

"The use of the words 'His Excellency' will be discontinued while organising functions within the country and during interactions between Indian dignitaries and the President," the statement said.

The expression will, however, continue to be used during Mukherjee's overseas trips or meetings with foreign dignitaries in India, in keeping with international practice.

Mukherjee, after reviewing the current protocol, also directed his officials that "Hon'ble" will be used before the title of "President" or "Governor" but the traditional "Shri" or "Smt" should precede the name.

"In Hindi, 'Rashtrapati Mahoday' should be used in place of 'Mahamahim'," the statement said. "Rashtrapati Ji" will replace "Mahamahim" in official notings in the President's secretariat.

The President's office has conveyed these decisions to the Union home ministry and asked it to inform all central departments and state governments.

Rashtrapati Bhavan officials stayed tight-lipped on the reasons for Mukherjee's decision to reduce his movements within New Delhi.

The President has been travelling and attending ceremonial events almost non-stop since he took over on July 25. In the past seven days, he attended two programmes in Vigyan Bhavan.

On Monday, Mukherjee visited the comptroller and auditor general's headquarters near one of Delhi's busiest intersections.

As for outstation journeys, he has visited Maharashtra, Bihar and Bengal recently and will leave for Karnataka on Thursday.

Some previous Presidents too had made similar efforts to avoid disrupting traffic but Mukherjee's has been the most thoroughgoing.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had issued instructions that his travels within the capital should be scheduled outside the peak traffic hours. President Pratibha Patil had tried to reduce the number of cars in her motorcade.

"She had passed instructions that Innovas or other big cars should be included in the cavalcade so that more officials can be accommodated in a single car," an official said.