THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

27. First Woman President

Congratulations to Pratibha Patil being elected as first female President of India and a victory for women everywhere.

Pratibha Patil became the first female president of India on Saturday, an election result described as an historic step forward for women in the world's most populous democracy.

Lawmakers elected the 72-year-old lawyer by a landslide over the 84-year-old Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for the largely ceremonial post of head of state.

"I am grateful to the voters... I am grateful to the people of India, the men and women of India," Patil said outside her New Delhi home, as supporters danced in the streets and burst firecrackers in celebration.

"This is the victory of the principles which our Indian people uphold," she told reporters.

Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party, smiled warmly on hearing that the candidate she had plucked from relative political obscurity had won the race.

"In the 60th year of our independence, for the first time, we have a woman president and I want to thank our alliance partners and all those who voted for her," said Gandhi.

The government's Communist partners echoed her views.

"It is a historic win ... it is a great moment," A.B. Bardhan, the leader of the Communist Party of India, told reporters. "Those who have opposed her have to reconcile her victory."

Patil, a native of western Maharashtra state, defeated Shekhawat by a large margin, securing 66 per cent of the votes cast by an electoral college of federal and state lawmakers, said election officer P.D.T. Achary.

A stream of well-wishers thronged Patil's residence in the national capital. People hugged each other in celebration and distributed sweets in the streets of her home town of Jalgaon.
In contrast, Shekhawat's official residence was deserted with the vice president submitting his resignation after conceding defeat.

"I congratulate Pratibha Devisingh Patil on her election as the president and accept the result in the election with humility," Shekhawat later said in a statement to the media.

Patil's victory came despite a savage campaign against her by the Hindu nationalist opposition, described by analysts as the most vitriolic in India's post-colonial history.

Flashing a victory sign, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Patil's win a vote against "the politics of divisiveness... a vote in favour of unity and for strengthening the foundation of our democracy."

Patil, governor of the northwestern state of Rajasthan, was accused of protecting her brother in a murder probe and shielding her husband in a suicide scandal. There were also claims of involvement in a slew of financial scams.

But the new president, a demure figure who dresses conservatively in a sari pulled over her hair, denied any wrongdoing.

She was also mocked for telling television viewers that a dead spiritual guru gave her a "divine premonition of greater responsibility."

India's top news magazine, India Today, mockingly put her on its front cover with the headline: "Embarrassing Choice."

Patil's showing is "better than expected" but "not surprising as independent lawmakers who want to be on the winning side must have voted for her," said political analyst Rasheed Kidwai.
"The gender appeal was also there with women legislators voting for her," he said.

But analysts said India's popular, outgoing President Abdul Kalam was a tough act to follow, adding Congress rebuffed his bid for a second five-year term because it wanted a party loyalist.

The silver-haired, shaggy-locked missile scientist, who became a national hero after overseeing successful tests in 1998 that turned India into a nuclear power, was dubbed the "People's President" for his populist style.

Under the constitution, the prime minister has executive power but the president plays a role in forming governments at state and federal levels, making the post hotly contested - AFP.