Saturday, July 21, 2007

India names its first female president - Yahoo! News

India names its first female president - Yahoo! News Pratibha Patil has been elected as India's new Head of State, whose role is largely ceremonial, and whose constitutional powers are rather limited (However, in the era of coalition governments that started with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the President does have an important role when it comes to deciding which party should be called to form a new government in a hung parliament).
Her candidacy was dogged by unprecedented mudslinging from the moment it was agreed upon by coalition members, marring the usually genteel process of presidential elections.

Her comments ahead of the election calling on Indian women to abandon headscarves was roundly denounced by Muslim leaders and by historians — who disputed her assertion that women only started wearing them in India to save themselves from 16th century Muslim invaders.

Analysts say Patil, who is largely unknown on the national stage, was selected for her unswerving devotion to Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress party, and Gandhi's powerful family, which has historically controlled the party.
[snip]
The election of a woman continues an Indian tradition using the presidency to bolster disadvantaged communities.

Hindu-majority India has had three Muslim presidents, including incumbent A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, since winning independence from Britain in 1947. It has also had a president from the minority Sikh community, and Kalam's predecessor, K. R. Narayanan, came from the bottom of the society's complex social hierarchy.

While India has had several women in positions of power — most notably Indira Gandhi, who was elected prime minister in 1966, and her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, who currently heads the Congress party — many women still face rampant discrimination.
The outgoing President is a self-effacing scientist, the architect of India's nuclear program, and a big promoter of social reform stressing education and the scientific world-view. Though his power is limited, he did try to stand up to some of the self-serving pandering of Members of Parliament in the office of profits affair. The following, I think, reveals something of his character, a humility that is glaringly absent from India's political stage.
In possibly his last public function as the head of the state, Kalam had an advice for the countrymen -- `don't take gifts that come with a purpose and build families with character and good value system.

"On the 25th I will leave Rashtrapati Bhawan after having spent five glorious years there. What I have got are two small suitcases. I will go with two small suitcases," he said in his address at the India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC)
[He did add that the two suitcases didn't include a large library of books. He's a professor after all!] [Oh do go read this little blog critique on the Patil campaign and "women's empowerment," highlighting again the maddeningly schizophrenic reality of India.]

1 comment:

PixelChick said...

I will forever associate Pres. Kalam with the grace he brought to the presidency, and in having him, we saw how even that titular post could be used to something larger than itself. That he's a scientist/educationist and has come up the hard way just added to the aura. How many such legacy presidents have we had, except the older ones like Radhakrishnan? Somehow after having such a president, Pratibha Patil feels like a bit of a let-down. I know that sounds horribly judgemental, but I hope she doesn't get into the puppet mode.