Wednesday, July 18, 2007
By M.V. Kamath
It does not matter whether, in the end, Pratibha Patil wins or loses. In her choice the nation has already lost. The general belief is that she will win because of the cumulative vote of 5,97,645 votes that she is expected to get. The point is made that even if Vice President were to mop up every other vote, it would only add up to 4,98,826 or about a lakh votes less than what Pratibha Patil is expected to get—unless, of course, there is large-scale cross-voting. Such an eventuality cannot be dismissed out of hand, politics being politics.
Dr. A.P.J.Kalam now is out of the race, which is just as well. Sonia Gandhi has seen to it that he will not get a second chance. For one thing, the point is made that traditionally an elected President will not get a second-term. But considering that it was Dr Kalam who had raised the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s ineligibility to the Prime Ministership because of her alien past, it would have been a miracle if the Congress president stood by him at this crucial hour.
It is clear that the Congress had originally no women in mind for the post of such high honour as the presidentship; to claim that it had, would be sheer hypocrisy….. if not downright lie. Pratibha Patil’s name emerged only after five Congress leaders—all men—were first considered and then, under Leftist pressure, rejected to their utter embarrassment and eternal shame.
Think of them, all well-known figures, each distinguished in his own way, men like Pranab Mukherjee, Karan Singh, Shivraj Patil, Arjun Singh and Sushil Kumar Shinde. All of them were humiliated. For the Congress, therefore, to claim that it was their idea to have a woman President is pure humbug and large-scale cheating of the public. It will fool nobody.
Till she was nominated, Pratibha Patil was almost totally unknown outside her native Jalgaon. When her name was announced, the usual reaction was: “Pratibha who?”. What comes as a shock is to learn that she had stuck to her maiden name: Patil. What that signifies is anybody’s guess. Is it a form of extreme feminism currently in favour among young married women to retain their individuality? Is it an assertion of one’s identity, not to be diluted through marriage? Is it a way of showing that she is essentially a Maharashtrian and refuses to accept a Rajasthani identity though the surname ‘Patil’ is by no means confined to geographic Maharashtra? No explanation is available. It certainly is an affront to tradition. But even as a true-blue Maharashtrian, what has been her contribution to Maharashtra?
As Shobha De, the columnist, relevantly notes: “Pratibha has no known track record of having done anything of consequence for women in all these decades of being in public life. Even as the Governor of Rajasthan (a state that has to be visited to believe how repressed its women are in this day and age) Pratibha has not covered herself with special glory in this sensitive area. So I fail to understand why she is being thrust on us as a Joan of Arc slaying demons that stand in the path of women’s progress. This is simply not the case.”
De, incidentally, is a Maharashtrian, Shiv Sena kindly note. So is Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in chief of CNN-IBN and a columnist besides who wants to know who is bothered, that in her selection was also the humiliation of another son of the (Maharashtrian) soil, Shivraj Patil. “Smt Patil”, writes Sardesai, “has revealed no glimmer of threatening talent, no unsettling flamboyance, no unnecessary excellence or extraordinary charisma that her supporters and patrons might undoubtedly have hated or seen as a rival power centre.” Indeed, her body language and her utterances expose her low caliber from any point of view.
Yet another columnist, Santosh Desai (The Week) stressed the point that for Pratibha to become President not because she is worthy but because she is a woman is to “mock the cause of empowerment of women”. Also, he added: “To assume that women alone must represent the cause of women is to shrivel our democracy into a market where different vested interests collide and compete.” Besides, to expect only a woman President always to defend the interests of women is asking for the moon. It was a man, Raja Ram Mohan Roy who fought against suttee (sati). Not a woman. What did K.R. Narayanan do as President to raise the status of dalits or Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to raise the educational standards of Muslims? Forget the fact that Pratibha Patil’s brother has been charged with a grievous crime. Forget the fact that the sugar factory of which Pratibha Patil was founding chairman owes a bank some Rs 19 crore—and not a paise has been repaid. The cooperative bank in Jalgaon set up by Pratibha Patil ostensibly to empower women had its license revoked in 2003 by the Reserve Bank of India which charged the bank with a faulty loan policy and a policy which largely benefitted her own relatives. It is shocking to learn that the bank waived loans given to two of Pratibha’s nieces, one, Anjali Dilipsingh Patil who got a waiver of Rs 29.86 lakh, a sister-in-law Rajkaur Dilipsingh Patil who got a waiver of Rs 2.47 lakh and yet another sister-in-law Kavita Aravind Patil who got a waiver of Rs 8.59 lakh.
According to reports, in all, a dozen of Pratibha’s relatives were granted loans totalling Rs 2.2 crore, most of them declared Non-Performing Accounts (NPAs). After an RBI inspection of the bank in 2002, it was declared “sick”.
The gross NPAs of the bank, that is, loans that have gone bad, amount to 65.8 per cent of the total loans and advances. A Writ Petition filed by the bank’s depositors in the High Court says: “Because of the influence of Respondent 8 (Pratibha Patil), the bank has given various loans to the relatives and to a sugar factory of which she is a Director. Her relatives have not paid back the loans. Most of the loans were given without security. Most of the loans are closed.”
“With the cancellation of the bank’s license and commencement of the liquidation process, the bank is closed and people (have) lost their jobs.”
All these facts were long suppressed, but now they are coming out in the open. That the Shiv Sena has not taken all this into consideration but has allowed itself blindly to be taken in by the fact that Pratibha is a Maharashtrian, is a disgrace.
Are we to have Presidents by state rotation and caste considerations or strictly on merit? Are we Indians first and Maharashtrians next, or the other way round? At this rate we would soon find Gujjars and Meenas demanding that the next President must be from their caste and then sub-castes may take a lesson from them. What the present situation shows is a betrayal of all principles by the Congress. Worse, it is a betrayal of India. If the Congress does not understand this, it understands nothing.