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Making of a President: A political blockbuster

CNN-IBN
Jul 22, 2007 at 02:25pm IST

Pratibha Patil on Saturday became India's first woman President albeit after one of the most controversial Presidential elections in Indian history.

While the result was a foregone conclusion, it was the margin of victory that was truly impressive.

Patil defeated nearest rival – NDA-backed vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat – by more than three lakh votes.

The former governor of Rajasthan took an early lead when she bagged 223 votes in Andhra Pradesh - a considerable lead over Shekhawat who managed just two votes in the state. The value of one MLA's vote in Andhra Pradesh is 148.

After the results were announced, Patil described her victory as a ‘victory of principles and victory of right thinking’ by the people.

Patil, who had been haunted by unsubstantiated Opposition charges of corruption, fraud and improprieties, won almost 11,000 more votes than expected.

Shekhawat got 3,31,306 votes.

But while she may have started her campaign as an apparently clean candidate, Patil ended it as the most controversial one.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that her ascent to Rashtrapati Bhavan has raised several questions - questions that could hold the key to the institution of the Presidency.

Also, comparisons are already being made between her and outgoing president A P J Abdul Kalam.

Will Patil be merely a rubber stamp or can she match the charisma of Kalam?

CNN-IBN’s special show Madam President, conducted by Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai raised several pertinent questions about India’s new President and the institution of Presidency.

On the panel to discuss the issues were Congress leader Ashwani Kumar; Editor-In-Chief The Pioneer Chandan Mitra and Rajya Sabha MP,National Affairs Editor CNN-IBN Diptosh Majumdar; Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu and actress Pooja Bedi.

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Who had the last laugh?

At the end of the campaign, does UPA really have reasons to celebrate? Isn’t Pratibha Patil stigmatised despite her victory?

Answering the question Kumar said, “Honestly speaking, it’s a moment for celebration. It is a defining moment for the democracy because it has elected women to the presidency. The nation knows that we have got more votes than numbers and that is a critical element. It is the beginning of the disintegration of the NDA.”

AgThe NDA has got less votes than even it could have got with its numbers in the Assemblies and Parliament. Isn’t this a massive set back for the national democratic alliance?

“Sometimes the ‘winner takes all’ syndrome starts affecting everybody and when people see those numbers heavily stacked against them, its doesn’t make any difference. People may express some local grievances through by voting on other side, “ Mitra replied while talking about NDA’s defeat.

However, CNN-IBN’s National Affairs Editor Diptosh Majumdar described NDA’s defeat as a substantial setback. “There are voices of dissidents, which have been heard not just from Gujarat but also from Bihar and Chattisgarh. The UPA-Left-Mayawati combination that worked to maintain the coalition didn’t take substantial opinion which was building up against Pratibha Patil into account at all. “

The irony of the situation remains that while Patil’s victory is being seen as one bolstering Maharashtrian pride and upholding Maharashtrian Asmita, she didn’t go to Maharashtra even once during her campaign.

It appeared that the Congress was worried about sharing a platform with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra that voted in favour of Patil.

Therefore, many believe there are various issues that make this somewhat not quite the victory that Congress is projecting.

Reacting to the statement Kumar said, “We can always find some kind of negative even in a moment of celebration. There is nothing of the sort. I know why she couldn’t go at the last moment. There were logistical problems. No question of her being hesitant to share the stage with anyone. The Shiv Sena has announced from day one that they will support a Maharashtrian.”

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Is Pratibha Patil: The right choice?

For Pratibha Patil, it’s been a remarkable rise from a small town in Jalgaon to becoming the first citizen of the country.

She's the first woman President of India - a woman whose journey in politics spans more than four decades. Pratibha Patil has come a long way from the sleepy town of Jalgaon where she was born in 1934.

And now her controversial views on the veil and family planning have sent out a feeling that she is not the candidate for modern 21st century India.

But Congressman Kumar was clearly miffed by the statement and Patil should be given time as people “grow into Presidency”.

He said Patil was a candidate who has held several important posts both at states and national levels. “Give her the opportunity to show how well she will perform her Presidentship. I have absolutely no doubt that she would be able to reflect the aspiration of modern India, “he said.

Pitching up the UPA nominee, Kumar quoted William Haslet that the reputation of a man seldom in his own keeping.

He also argued that there existed no politician whose career had remained untouched by controversy.

But Chandan Mintra didn’t agree with Patil and said her track record didn’t speak in her favour. “I would love to be disproved but by judging her track record that seems a bit difficult. After so many years and with the whole baggage of controversies that are still their court case is still going on, I think it will be very difficult for her. She, rather than having to prove, will have to actually disprove the allegations and charges that are already exists against her and her family.”

But just how much will these controversies affect Patil? Will she grow into this Presidency considering she has a tough act to follow?

Kalam appeared to raise the stature of the Presidency and has set a tough, though a great example

“The fact remains that this is a living constitution we are talking about and in a living constitution interpretation has to be done according to the times and this is 21st century and we have just experienced a President who has interpreted Presidency in a very highly manner, “ Majumdar said.

Opposition: A poor, weak enemy

While it’s been a weekend to celebrate for the UPA, there are worrying signs for the Opposition NDA and the Third Front UNPA.

In the end, Race for Raisina 2007 will be remembered for the redrawing of coalitions at the Centre.

Patil won by more than three lakh votes and UNPA, in particular, split apart. Jayalalithaa didn’t follow Third Front line and actually voted for Shekhawat.

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“It is very clear that UNPA was formed for an alternative to NDA and also for UPA. NDA wanted to maintain a secular credentials at the same time UPA was adopting economic programme its not good for the nation. As on today the benefits of economic reforms not reaching the common man so all of us wanted to join together to created alternative economic programme, “Naidu said.

But it was the formation of the Third Front that remained perhaps one of the most defining aspects of politics. But will this third front of non-Congress non-BJP parties sustain itself till 2009.?

“It is very clear this UNPA will sustain. It will strengthen further we are also very clear that some more parties are going to join us. We are interested in nation building and we will continue to work in that direction. Even in NDA there are some partners who abstain and also even in UPA some parties abstained,” said Naidu.

The disintegration of the NDA is also giving the UNPA a faint chance to occupy that space.

State after state, there has been cross-voting against the BJP. When Shekhawat filed his nomination he got support from just JD(U), Akalis and BJD, indicating perhaps that the 23-party coalition was disintegrating.

Journalists Mitra and Majumdar had differing oopinions on the future of the Opposition. “It’s true that in this presidential election there have been major set backs for the NDA. The Shiv Sena in particular is very big setback because it is one of the original alliances. But this is not an election that involved the people of India. I don’t think it’s a pointer to 2009.”

While Mitra said it wasn’t a reason enough for NDA to worry, Majumdar said chinks in NDA armour had begun appearing.

“Within the NDA, the BJP, which is the center of gravity, is not defining its position which is making things more difficult as a result of which the untouchably factor is coming in. Its ideological position is creating problems because of regional compulsions,” Diptosh said.

Madam President: Woman on top?

Immediately after getting to know of her nomination, Pratibha Patil said it was symbolic of the respect women enjoy in the country.

While many women rights activists would beg to differ, there's no doubt this is the farthest a woman has come in the race for the country's top job.

In India's 60th year of independence, many would say it's about time a woman was made the first citizen of the country. Patil is today a new entrant to the ladies club in Indian politics.

But do the women of the country feel proud to have her as a benchmark of sorts? Actress Pooja Bedi agreed vehemently and said women seemed to have finally broken the proverbial glass ceiling which even the West tried so hard to break. “In America we haven’t had a women president, and now we have one in India. I am very happy to be women in today’s era in India. In just one lifetime when I see my grandmother generation and I see the women today, there is such a change the way they dress the way they talk the education. It really makes me proud to see women where they are at today.”

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But being from another era, Pratibha could just be a token symbol. Does she really represent womanhood in true sense?

Pooja said the fact that she had thought of women issues was a reason good enough to belive her. “She has women issues close to her heart. I think that is wonderful because essentially that is something which needs to be focused in today’s life,” she said.

Echoing Pooja’s view Kumar said, “I think Pooja has rightly defined what Pratibha Patil is and will be. She is not at all a token symbol but I think a reflection of the best of Indian womanhood.”

But Mitra chose to disagree and said he’d rather see someone like Kiran Majumdar Shaw – a symbol of business, dynamism education – as president of India.

But most panelists agreed she should be given a chance to prove herself and grant her the benefit of doubt.

But Mitra argued the talk of giving Pratibha the benefit of doubt is an invalid argument and that Indian politics didn’t quite need her to prove how well women have performed in the past, “I don’t think we have too much of choice now and we have to give her the benefit of doubt. I think Indian women, atleast in politics, have really proved themselves time and again. There is nothing left to prove. With Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa - what more do Indian women have to prove?” he questioned.

But the worry remains that Pratibha has been brought in Raisina Hill as a token symbol after Congress suddenly discovered a women candidate.

Kumar defended his party’s decision and said Just because a woman president didn’t mean she must concentrate only on women issues. “She is expected to do much more: to preserve the dignity of the office, to uphold the constitution and to act according to her judgment, “ Kumar said.

A trailer to 2009?

While Race to Rashtrapati Bhawan will be remembered for the political one-upmanship that it was made out to be, this election was never about “election” itself.

“The election was only something around which a political campaign was carried out. The NDA the BJP in particular succeeded in establishing that the Congress chose the most vulnerable candidate possible for the office of president. This has brought down the office significantly and will be a major issue in the 2009 election, “ Mitra summed up the debate and closed his argument

Can Pratibha Patil become a great President? Majumdar said it was an opportunity for Patil to try and prove her detractors wrong. “The only fear is that the way presidency has been evolving has probably necessitated another set of checks and balances within the system of Indian democracy. “

Congressman Kumar closed the debate with a strong statement. While defending the Congress, which he claimed has never tried to “remote control” the presidency, he also sent out an ominous warning. “It is the beginning of the disintegration of the NDA. This is the trailer of 2009, “ he said.

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