India's first woman president
By: M. Burhanudin Qasmi
'Madam' Pratibha Patil, 72 years old, the candidate of India's ruling coalition-- UPA, will be the fourth woman to contest the presidential elections but the first to surely become the twelfth President of India.
Left fielded freedom fighter Lakshmi Sahgal in 2002, who contested against President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Kalam became third Muslim and the eleventh president with 922,884 votes, Sahgal got just 107,366 votes.
It was in the fourth presidential election in 1967 that a woman - Manohara Holkar - tried her luck individually to get to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the first time. But among eight candidates, she did not get a single vote. Eminent scholar Dr. Zakir Hussain then became the first Muslim and the third president of India.
The second woman candidate was Furcharan Kaur, who took on V.V. Giri on 1969 and finished fifth among 15 candidates. Kaur got 940 and Giri won with 401,515 votes making the fourth president for the country. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the second Muslim, became the fifth elected president of India in 1974.
On 26th Janurary 1950 Dr. Rajendra Prasad becomes the first and in 1962 Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan followed him as the second president of India. Giani Zail Singh, the first Sikh, made the seventh president for the country following Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the sixth.
R. Venkataraman and Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma were the eighth and ninth presidents respectively for the federal, democratic republic of India.
K R Narayanan, India's first Dalit president was a reality in 1997 only when he became the tenth president of a land where minority Brahmins were non-cooperative to deliver appropriate share to the majority Dalit community in power and public recourses. And even today the Brahmins of India are like that of the Jews for the world-- exploiting maximum power and recourses in their favour in disguise of quality, intellect and so-called Vedic or Biblical boons bestowed by god upon them.
Now India is set to make another history, the first woman president in Pratibha Patil- former Rajasthan governor, social worker and less known Congress politician since 1962.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) named Patil, as its surprise presidential nominee on June 14 after more than a month's uncertainty and media speculation. Pratibha Patil's name had never publicly figured in the intense political parleys over the UPA's presidential candidate - and the choice took the nation by surprise.
Congress president Ms. Sonia Gandhi, who had been at the centre of the political discussions, made the formal announcement saying it was a "historic moment" for India. No doubt 'it was' and Ms. Sonia Gandhi will be remembered for this historical overture and her wise politicking with friends and foes in the history. She has been proven a wise politician in May 2004 as well when she made Dr. Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh as seventeenth Prime Minister of India.
The nuclear man and 'people's President' A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who steps down this month after an eventful five-year period, made it one of the best presidential tenures in India. He was a presidential candidate from the ruling coalition - NDA in 2002 and was the best choice, thus the Congress and SP also voted him to the presidenship.
Mr. Kalam's last half of the five-year tenure was a visible face of real democratic beauty of India-- a Muslim on top of all as president, a Christian lady-- Ms. Gandhi, leader of a ruling coalition UPA and a Sikh-- Dr. Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minster with majority Hindu ministers leading the largest democracy of the world. It looks really amazing.
It is a matter of great pride for the nation that on the historic moment of the 60th anniversary of our independence and at the 150th anniversary of the first war of freedom we will have a woman president. We are making India a vibrant nation-- different from other countries of the world in many righteous ways-- and rightly we Indians should be proud of multi cultural, multi religious and multi lingual assets of our Nation.
One important aspect of Pratiba Patil's presidentail candidature can not be over looked. That is, though the Left never said publicly that it was opposed to Shivraj Patil becoming the next president, yet communist sources let it be known to all that they doubted the secular credentials of the present home minister based on his past track records.
Once it was evident that Shivraj Patil would not be able to make it to the presidential palace, the names of power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Congress veteran Karan Singh were bandied about. But pro-Left sources hinted that they disapproved of even Karan Singh, the scion of Kashmir's royal family.
The Left remained adamant on blocking names it did not like even after Karunanidhi announced that he would go with anyone the Congress chose as its presidential nominee. And even after the BSP supremo Mayawati clearly sided with the Congress the Left could still build up pressure around Ms. Sonia Gandhi to name someone whom the Left also approves.
Except the very recent statement by Pratiba Patil about women's veil in India which was genuinely criticized by both prominent historians and Muslim scholars as immature, uncalled for and factually incorrect the UPA's candidate was also a non-controversial entity in her political carrier. The statements, in most of the cases, she made as an UPA nominee for presidential race exposed her lack of maturity comparing the out going president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam but the UPA and even the Left has already closed all doors to Rashtrapati Bhavan except sticking with Patil's 'Paratiba'.
Amid the UPA confusion, the BJP-led NDA was preparing to put up a strong fight, by fielding Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Shekhawat, present Vice President, is known to have wide connections among India's political class and could be counted to draw votes even from sections of the UPA, making him a formidable contestant. But the Shev Sena's slogan 'marathi manoos' has already caused a break in NDA camp, thus 'you like it or not' Pratiba Patil is surely in making the first woman and to say 'Madam' president of India.
Will this Nation ever see a Muslim and a Dalit prime minister in the near future too?
M. Burhanuddin Qasmi the writer is also a poet and Director of Mumbai based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre’.
- Asian Tribune -