Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Woman President for India

A Woman President for India

Dr. Pratibha Patil may win the election on July 19th and become the first woman President of India on the 60th anniversary of independence. However, the question at large is - what does it take to find at least 5 competitive candidates? We are a billion plus people and yet, we have not developed our institutions to produce 5 competitive candidates?

Why did we not look into others from the field of Science, Agriculture, Medical and Law professions? Dr. Kalam made a massive difference to the Presidency because he was not a darn political candidate, he was a scientist and was conditioned to thinking in terms of goals, means and achievement.

India should never make the decision based on how the candidate appears on the stage with XYZ, it should be based on what that person can contribute towards taking the nation forward with cohesiveness.

You are invited to share your comments at the end of this article by New York Times.

Mike Ghouse

Indians Question Fitness of Presidential Pick http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/17/world/asia/17cnd-india.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

Published: July 17, 2007

NEW DELHI, July 17 — India’s first female president is likely to be voted into office on Thursday, but this milestone event has been overshadowed in recent weeks by an unusually savage debate over whether she is fit to become head of state.

When the leader of the governing Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, announced in June that Pratibha Patil, 72, was her party’s official choice for the post, she added that to have a woman president would be a matter of “great pride” and a “historic moment in the 60th year of our republic.”

But Gandhi’s attempt to promote this as a triumph for gender equality has won Ms. Patil little support.

Instead, the pre-election campaigning has been dominated by a series of vitriolic attacks on Ms. Patil’s credentials.

The opposition has alleged, among other things, that she shielded her brother in a murder investigation, protected her husband in a suicide scandal, and was herself involved in numerous financial irregularities.

And then there are Ms. Patil’s own peculiar statements — most notably, her revelation that she had heard the voice of a dead guru predicting she would rise to power.

National and local elected lawmakers will vote in a secret ballot for the new president, a figurehead role that is meant to be broadly apolitical and ceremonial.

If, as expected, voting follows party lines, Ms. Patil is assured of an easy victory over the only other candidate who is standing, the country’s current vice president, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, 83, who is affiliated to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

Initially, Ms. Patil’s nomination was widely greeted with bemusement.

Despite 45 years in politics, she remained largely an unknown, far from being a household name. An old ally of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi, and a loyal long-term supporter of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, Ms. Patil enjoys good relations with Indira’s daughter-in-law, Sonia. But beyond this intimate circle, Ms. Patil’s enthusiastic backers have been few.

Congress party officials were unable to disguise the fact that she was a compromise choice, selected by the leadership as a last-ditch suggestion, after half a dozen other, more high-profile names, were rejected by the government’s coalition allies as unacceptable.

After her nomination, Ms. Patil’s journey from obscurity was swift and rude. The opposition BJP issued a booklet titled “Does This Tainted Person Deserve to Become the President of India?”. As journalists shook more apparent skeletons from the closet, a website was set up by party supporters (knowpratibhapatil.com) to accommodate the full range of accusations.

Even neutral or usually pro-Congress commentators have been startled by a number of Ms. Patil’s own pronouncements.

On hearing of her nomination, Ms. Patil remarked on live television that she knew she was destined for higher things because she had had a “divine premonition.” A dead religious leader, Baba Lekhraj, had recently spoken to her through “the body” one of his living disciples, she said, and he had informed her that “great responsibility” would be handed to her.

“The future president of India speaks to dead people,” wrote Tavleen Singh, a columnist in the Indian Express, a daily national newspaper. “This is almost worse than her shady past.”

Ms. Patil’s support for forced sterilizations to curb population growth in the 1980s has also attracted negative comment and her recent suggestion that Indian women originally veiled their heads to shield themselves from marauding Muslim invaders has outraged Muslim leaders.

The weekly news magazine India Today featured her on its cover, with the headline “Embarrassing Choice.” Inside, reporters detailed how a bank she set up to empower women in the 1970s was liquidated two decades later amid allegations from the bank’s workers union that Ms. Patil had loaned large sums to her own relatives — men as well as women — which were never returned.

The magazine also described how her brother was caught up in a murder investigation, hinted at family involvement in the misappropriation of tsunami relief funds, and gave details of how her husband was accused of involvement in the suicide of a school teacher. Legal proceedings are under way in both the suicide and murder cases.

T.N. Ninan, editor of the Business Standard, a national newspaper, called in a recent column for the Congress party to withdraw her nomination. “The whole country now knows that she is not a suitable candidate for being made head of state,” he wrote. ”For five long years, she will be a national embarrassment in a way that no president so far has been. And if the courts move against her close relatives in ongoing cases, her position will become untenable.”

At first, Ms. Patil fought back, declaring that the charges were politically motivated and “false, baseless and malicious”.

More recently, she has remained silent, allowing a team of Congress party officials to mount what the news media here have described as a “Save Pratibha” campaign.

Parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Dasmunsi, who has spearheaded her defense, said he was “too busy” to comment when contacted by telephone today, but he has repeatedly told the Indian media that the allegations are “nonsense.”

The director of the Delhi-based Center for Policy Alternatives, Mohan Guruswamy, said the Congress Party had mounted a dubious defense of its candidate over the collapse of her bank.

“Their argument is that there is not a single cooperative bank in India which has not been similarly defrauded, so why blame her alone,” he said.

This was not a line of argument likely to be widely accepted, he added.

“The office of president has previously been held by people of reasonable eminence and stature,” he said. “The office is invested with a moral authority. Here we have taken a provincial politician and catapulted her into the highest office of the country. She is a small-time crook, a political hanger on, with no constituency. Whether she will be able to fulfill her role is a matter of debate now.”

Votes will be counted on July 21 and the new president will start work on July 25.

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