So the Presidential election is finally over (Sigh!), and with this, India creates history by appointing the first woman to its highest office! Undoubtedly it is a commendable achievement in itself, knowing the fact that most of the other relatively older and stronger democracies across the world are still struggling to elect a woman to their highest offices.
Also historical is the fact that this election, in particular, has been the most hyped-up and murkiest of all Presidential elections of independent India, for – unlike the respected Mrs.Pratibha Patil – there has not been a single President who has been elected to the honourable office with so much mud on his (in this case, ‘her’) face. In fact, for most of India, Mrs.Patil was a thoroughly non-existent entity before the Presidential elections. It is only while digging into her past – when some newspapers, for sweet mercies, reported how she had also been the Governor of Rajasthan – that people got to know about her. Then again, being a Governor in a country like India doesn’t require many credentials. The post is most often gifted to also-been politicians, ostensibly for their ‘honest’ service to the political party they belong to. And if luck is in their favour, then one might even be gifted with what Mrs.Patil has been handed on a contemptuous platter.
Let’s face it, when Pratibha Patil was made the official candidate of the United Progressive Alliance, the contention that they put forward was that they were on the verge of making history by electing the first woman President of the Republic of India. That too when most of the credible news agencies and journalists worth their names have elaborately written about her murky past; a truant past that has expectably not cut any additional ice with the opposition. Though the opposition might have lost in their endeavour to prevent Pratibha Patil from being the next President of India, not everything that has been said about her was baseless. It started with Mrs.Rajani Patil, (wife of the slain Prof.V. G. Patil), filing a petition in the Bombay High Court with the request to monitor the investigations done by CBI into the alleged murder of her husband by the brother of Pratibha Patil (as she suspected that Pratibha Patil was using her political influence to save her brother from the gallows)! But more shocking is the College of Engineering & Technology imbroglio. This college is situated at Bambhori (near Jalgaon, Maharashtra) and is run by a trust called Shrama Sadhana Trust,
whose Chairman is incidentally Pratibha Patil herself. This particular trust had several accounts with a bank not surprisingly called Pratibha Mahila Cooperative Bank. Herein, there was a specific account (No. 7784) meant for subsidising the education of financially weak students. It is alleged that this account was instead deliberately used for doling out money to either Pratibha Patil, or to her family members, and that all the cheques were signed by the lady herself. There have been several such alleged instances of fraud by her and her relatives... So much so that even RBI has been critical of these. Unfortunately, the lady who has been at the helm of all such malice is today at the helm of the Union of India.
Let me be ruthlessly honest. To elect a woman President is a great idea in itself, but not at the cost of shady credentials, for this country is not devoid of women with credible credentials. In her case, the electoral edge might have made sure that she wins; as the President clearly is more subservient to the ruling coalition than perhaps to the country. Had it been an American style Presidential election (with the masses involved in voting), the nation would never have chosen Pratibha Patil over the most respected Abdul Kalam, who for long has been the aspiration and icon for the upcoming generation of India.
Pratibha Patil, in spite of holding the same position now, cannot expect the same warmth from the nation’s citizens because to get that, one needs credibility and selfless devotion for the country. Unfortunately, for all the talks of being the world’s largest democracy, the Indian polity still prefers rubber stamps in its bureaucrats and its Presidents. Thinkers are not entertained and welcomed. Kalam was a man with a mind of his own who was not subservient to anyone – time and again he upheld the sanctity of the Constitution and made sure he didn’t behave as a stooge of a self serving government. But he paid the price for that.
A few weeks back, The Sunday Indian had raised the contentious issue of whether we actually needed a President, knowing well that the post has become virtually a powerless Constitutional entity. Rather than wasting hundreds of crores in the maintenance of this pretension, we should rather abolish it. And if we cannot do that, then we should at least hope that in the future, our polity can overcome the social stigmas of sex, religion, caste etc and elect a truly credible President for the nation!
- 05 August 2007 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics