The new President, Giani Zail Singh, reads out his address in the Durbar HallIf the weather was any indication, Giani Zail Singh’s five-year tenure as the seventh President of India promises to be a stormy one. The day of his swearing-in, Sunday, July 25, opened with a heavy downpour that,The new President, Giani Zail Singh, reads out his address in the Durbar HallIf the weather was any indication, Giani Zail Singh’s five-year tenure as the seventh President of India promises to be a stormy one. The day of his swearing-in, Sunday, July 25, opened with a heavy downpour that continued till just before the official ceremony.The normally-immaculate forecourt of the Durbar Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan, where the swearing-in was to take place, was a sea of red slush churned up by tyre tracks and hoofprints. But for all that, the Presidential mansion looked suitably imposing with the President’s bodyguard in white uniforms with scarlet sashes, lined up in an arrowhead formation on the steps of the Durbar Hall.Inside was minor bedlam as MPs jostled each other for the best seats in the house while Zail Singh’s invitees, many obviously straight from the village, were hopping over the seats like it was a movie hall. Only 300 MPs could be accommodated in the comparatively cramped confines of the Durbar Hall and those present sported a privileged air. But even they were clearly outdone by Zail Singh’s invitees and family members basking in reflected glory and wearing an air of festive gaiety. In comparison, the elegant diplomats were a subdued lot.The setting for the ceremony was in keeping with the pomp and pageantry of the office – the huge central chandelier towering over the crowds and dominating the octagonal-shaped Durbar Hall. But the centrepiece of the solemn drama about to unfold were the two, gilt-edged red velvet chairs meant for the outgoing President, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, and his successor, Giani Zail Singh.advertisementNeelam Sanjiva Reddy congratulates Giani Zail SinghThe chairs were placed on a rostrum in front of a stone statue of the Buddha. Above the statue, a red velvet canopy stretched up to the vaulted ceiling. Behind the chairs, stood five Presidential aides in full ceremonial dress, while turbaned guards lined the walls on both sides. The solemnity was enhanced considerably by the forceful and outspoken speech that Reddy had delivered the day before in which he had spoken critically of the need to have a strong Opposition in the country, an obvious if oblique warning to the ruling party.Nervous Zail Singh: The ceremony itself was conducted with split-second timing. Exactly at 11.25 a.m., Mrs Gandhi bustled into the Hall accompanied by Rajiv Gandh and her ever-present aide, the safari-suited R.K. Dhawan, Rajiv, however, preferred to sit at the rear of the Hall with his fellow MPs. At 11.30, precisely, to a flourish of trumpets, Reddy and the President-elect arrived and were escorted up the redcarpeted centre aisle by two Presidential aides-decamp. The procession was led by Speaker Balram Jakhar and Vice-President Hidayatullah followed by Giani Zail Singh in a white achkan with the Nehru-like red rose in the buttonhole. Behind him trailed Reddy, looking for lorn in the final moments of his Presidency. In contrast to Giani’s spotless white, Reddy sported a muddy brown achkan.Giani Zail Singh inspects the guard of honour after his swearing-inWhether it was the occasion or the thought of what lay ahead, Zail Singh looked decidedly nervous. Once the strains of the national anthem had faded away, he sat ramrod-straight in his seat, his hands stiff in his lap while Reddy preferred his familiar pose, slouched down in the high-backed Presidential chair, his hands resting on the armrests.Zail Singh’s nervousness was, however, more evident in the oath-taking ceremony which he made in unaccustomed and Punjabi-flavoured English. He stumbled twice over the oath and on one occasion, Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud had to repeat himself before Zail moved hesitantly along. With the oath-taking over, Giani switched places with Reddy on the rostrum with an air of obvious relief, while outside, the traditional 21 guns boomed out a muffled salute.Colourless Speech: There was an air of hushed expectancy as the newly-appointed President stepped up to the rostrum to deliver his Presidential address. A lot of effort had evidently gone into its composing and it had been sent to the Cabinet for the requisite approval at 11 p.m. the previous night.Reddy and wife wave farewellEnclosed in a blue folder and written in Gurmukhi, the address was delivered in Hindi, a language Zail was far more comfortable with. Even so, it was hesitantly delivered. The speech struck a jarring note when he proclaimed that “the nation has gained momentum, particularly in the preceding two and a half years” – the period since Mrs Gandhi returned to power. It was a sentence that was clearly out of context and only served to reduce the solemnity of the last obligatory sentence, that he would discharge his duties without “fear or favour”.By midday, the ceremony was over and the invitees trooped outside to await Zail Singh’s ceremonial arrival in the forecourt in the first of his Presidential perks – the gleaming carriage drawn by six carefully-groomed and plumed horses.advertisementA smiling Mrs Gandhi was forced to hitch up her pink and white printed sari and step daintily through the slush to get to the saluting base where she and Hidayatullah would greet the new President. Looking tiny and bird-like compared to the towering figures of the Presidential aides, she awaited the carriage which drew up in a flurry of shouted commands.The President steps into his official Mercedes with his new residence in the backgroundThe new President, for the first time in his life, preceded Mrs Gandhi to the saluting base where he stood in solitary but uncomfortable splendour before marching off to inspect the guard of honour. A few limp salutes later, it was all over and Zail Singh climbed into the second of his Presidential perks – a gleaming, open-roofed Mercedes, to be driven to the study of Rashtrapati Bhavan, his new home for the next five years. But as he left, there was no mistaking the wistful look on his bearded face, not so much for what lay ahead, but what he was leaving behind.