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The Rediff Special/ Aditi Phadnis
Presidential poll a loss of face for Congress
June 16, 2007
All her working political life, Pratibha Patil, likely to become the next President of India and the only woman ever to occupy the post, has used her maiden name.
So Patil-Shekhawat will change her name in the service of the nation, adding a caste and patriarchal appellation because it will help her win the election. She has let Congress president Sonia Gandhi know that she contested her first election as a Patil and did not change her name after that.
After a nondescript political career, during which she did very little to represent women, has the best woman won? And if she does become President, will it be for the right reasons?
More than any other election, this election is a national shame -- because it represents everything that is regressive about the Indian system.
Patil-Shekhawat has an MA and an LLB, and she was a practising lawyer in Jalgaon, where she belongs. Combined with 18 years of political experience during which she nearly became chief minister (nearly -- she was denied the chance because of Sanjay Gandhi, who preferred a supplicant Muslim in A R Antulay), this is being cited by the Congress as a great achievement by the standards of the 1960s and 1970s.
Look around you, cry Congress managers. Do you see a woman in the Congress better qualified and more experienced? The urge to retort is strong: and whose fault is that? In the new Goa [Images] assembly, there is one woman legislator out of 40. The Maharashtra government does not have a single woman minister.
Patil-Shekhawat's nomination is also distressing and depressing because it represents double defeat for the Congress. One, the Left and the DMK are now strong enough to turn down not one, not two, but three choices of the Congress for President.
Shivraj Patil's nomination was rejected by the Left not because they wanted a woman. It was rejected because they considered the home minister as being communal and incompetent. One could ask how they can hold this view and still shore up the government. One must also marvel at the home minister's capacity to absorb humiliation silently.
But more than that, it says something about the leadership in the Congress today. Indira Gandhi [Images] may have had the numbers but there were times she was at war with her own party. Would she, as a leader of the party, have tolerated any section of the Left dictating to her and humiliating her colleagues as it has done today?
What little the Left did not do, the Congress leadership did itself. Pranab Mukherjee was moved from defence to external affairs, because he is efficient; and denied a chance at Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] because he is too efficient. The trust deficit between him and 10 Janpath is now so well-known that the water carriers in the All India Congress Committee talk about it.
In order to buttress the case against him, Congress managers say he was not elevated because the Left canvassed for him too enthusiastically. There are also suggestions that he orchestrated the campaign himself. This is totally untrue, but it appears to have caught the imagination of the Congress president.
If a presidential election is about give and take -- in power politics, in policy, as a bonding force -- the Congress has resoundingly lost the game. It has just given, got nothing in return. The Left and the DMK have demonstrated they have the power of veto -- indeed, Karunanidhi is going to return to Tamil Nadu and boast that it was he who installed a woman President in Rashtrapati Bhavan, when the Congress was getting ready to put in place a man who could not control law and order.
And the Congress? Instead of extracting parliamentary assurances on various legislative and reform measures from the Left in return for keeping the home minister out of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the party has quietly succumbed to pressure with nothing to show for it.
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