By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI- Selected as the winning candidate for becoming Indiaâ€™s 13th President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil is just a step away from becoming the first woman to hold the countryâ€™s highest constitutional office.
After days of deliberation and suspense coupled with hectic parleys between politicians, her name was finally agreed on last Thursday (June 14) between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its ally–the Left bloc.
Making the announcement in the presence of PM Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi described it as a â€œhistoric momentâ€ in 60th year of the republic. Patil (72) is a Congress leader and a qualified lawyer from Maharashtra. She has experience as a politician as well as an administrator, having held key positions in the Maharashtra unit of Congress. She held ministerial portfolios before becoming Rajya Sabhaâ€™s deputy chairperson for two years from November 1986. Patil went into political wilderness after her tenure as a Lok Sabha member ended in 1996. She was brought in as Rajasthan governor in November 2004. Now she is just a step away from holding the topmost position in the country.
Expressing happiness at her selection, soon after her arrival from Jaipur (Rajasthan), Patil told reporters at the airport (June 16): â€œMy candidature for the top post is a big step for women. I am very happy to be selected as the UPA candidate. This shows that India has a lot of respect for women.â€ Her candidature would â€œinspireâ€ other women and help in their empowerment, she said. â€œBut empowerment will not come automatically. They will have to work for it,â€ she said.
Patil first called on Sonia at her residence and discussed issues related to presidential elections. Later, after meeting PM Singh at his official residence, dismissing speculations of her playing the role of a â€œmere rubber stamp,â€ she said: â€œThere is no question why I should be a mere rubber stamp. I have my own thinking and I have my own individuality.â€
Interestingly, Patilâ€™s name as a possible candidate was thrown in virtually at the last minute as Congress and the Left remained rigid on their respective stands. Among the names doing the rounds were that of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, and senior Congress member Karan Singh, sources said. Earlier, the Left had favored External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who had been strongly opposed by Congress. Expecting this logjam, PM Singh had apparently been prepared with a list of possible woman candidates. When A.B. Bardhan (CPI) said: â€œIt is time for a woman. After 60 years, the next president should be one,â€ Singh came up with Patilâ€™s name. â€œWhat about Pratibha Patil?â€ he asked and that settled the issue. Noted Gandhian Nirmala Deshpandeâ€™s name as a possible woman candidate was also considered.
Welcoming Patilâ€™s candidature, Kalam, who demits office next month, said: â€œFantastic!â€
Hailing the move, Girija Vyas, chairperson of National Commission for Women, said: â€œIt is a sign that Indian democracy has come of age. I thank all who decided to field a woman in the presidential election.â€ The women organizations are hopeful that with Patil as the President, greater sensitivity will be shown to womenâ€™s issues, particularly the long held-up bill providing 33 percent reservation to women in legislatures.
Women politicians of rival groups, however, think otherwise. Displaying a different stand, Sushma Swaraj (Bharatiya Janata Party) said: â€œFor the Congress, loyalty to the Gandhi family has been the main condition for the nomination while for the Left, the criteria has been survival of the UPA. Pratibha Patil is UPAâ€™s choice under compulsion, she is not a natural choice.â€
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J. Jayalalitha said: â€œWe have decided not to support a Congress nominee. It does not matter whether it is a man or a woman. We will go by our decision.â€
Though before her nomination Patil seldom hit headlines, in the political field she has made her mark. She is the first woman to hold the office of governor of Rajasthanâ€™s governor. At the time of her nomination, she was the only woman governor in the country. She was first woman president of Maharastra Pradesh Congress committee (MPCC). She is the fourth woman to run for presidential polls and the first one with the electoral edge numerically in her favor. The first time that a woman entered presidential polls was in 1967, but then Manohara Holkar failed to get a single vote, with Dr Zakir Hussain becoming the President. In 1969 elections, Gurcharan Kaur managed to get 940 votes against 401,515 got by V.V.Giri, the winning candidate. Freedom fighter Lakshmi Sahgal was the first woman candidate to be fielded by any political party. Selected by the Left for 2002 elections against President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who won with 922,884 votes, Sahgal got 107, 366 votes.
As of now, Patil is slated to be the winning candidate. The UPA-Left combine with votes of Bahujan Samaj Party has the numerical edge with more than 570,000 votes; National Democratic Alliance holding about 354,689 votes, and third front–106,281 votes.
With the Election Commission having issued a notification, the process of presidential election has been formally set in motion, June 16 being the first date for filing nominations. The last date for filing nominations is June 30 and for withdrawal of nominations is July 4. The counting is scheduled for July 21. Lok Sabha Secretary General P.D.T Achary has been appointed Returning Officer for the election.