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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.
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The Congress today attacked the BJP for not supporting the candidature of Pratibha Patil for Presidentship and accused the saffron party of being “blatantly” against the cause of women. Its a different matter that the cause of women was a sudden afterthought and a desparate face saving measure in light of strident opposition from the CPI-M and CPI to Shivraj Patil’s candidature. In a complete surprise on Thursday, the UPA-Left pulled out Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil’s name as their choice for the post of President. If Patil wins, she will be India’s first woman President. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has called the decision historic. The NDA is set on contesting the presidential elections against the UPA candidate after the UPA’s attempt to arrive at a consensus over Pratibha Patil was rebuffed by them. There seems to be a divide within the NDA over support for Pratibha Patil. The Shiv Sena has said it is not opposed to Pratibha Patil for President.
So, who exactly is Pratibha Patil?  We know she was a ping pong champion. We have also been told she has been clean, non controversial and loyal to the Nehru Gandhi family but we have not been told of her record or her world view.

While the Government was prompt in releasing her CV via the wires, Offstumped has done some digging of its own, specifically to examine Pratibha Patil’s record in the tenth Lok Sabha between 1991 and 1995. For the record it must be said while she had chequered career in state politics in Maharashtra she first came to participate in the Center in 1985 via the Rajya Sabha route while being Deputy Chairman between 1986 and 1988. While her candidature is being tom-tommed for gender correctness it must not deter us from asking tough questions of her record in light of the Constitutional role she in all likelihood will play in the years to come.

Pratibha Patil’s tenure in the Lok Sabha was rather low key with odd question or two from her mostly through 1992 and 1993. However her intervention in two key debates – 1992 No-Confidence Motion in the aftermath of the incidents in Ayodhya and the 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts, provide good insights into her world view. Offstumped analyses her comments during these two critical moments in our nation’s history to speculate on what kind of President she would likely make. Specifically Offstumped was looking for in her comments if apart from delivering the usual platitudes did she demonstrate any independence of thinking to challenge conventional wisdom, and if she demonstrated intellectual clarity to take a stance based on principles and not on populist sentiment. Why is this important in future President ? Well given the track record of the UPA Government in abusing the Constitution on the Office of Profit Issue it would be critical to see if she has the mettle to set loyalty aside to take an independent stance and stick with it rather than submit herself to convention and tradition.

We begin with her intervention in the 1992 No Confidence motion against the then P.V. Narasimha Rao government in the wake of the Babri Masjid Demolition. She begins her remarks with usual platitudes and then goes on to moralize with an anecdote from the Ramayana, mostly politically correct and at times sanctimonious. But then towards the end of the anecdote she makes a rather troubling observation.

But the people who have a blind faith in a particular religion cannot provide proper guidance to the people of our country. This was the reason why Baba Saheb Ambedkar had to part with Hindu religion with lakhs of his followers and to joined Buddhism. This is a fact which we should realise and accept.

If memory serves us right Dr. Ambedkar first declared his intention to leave Buddhism in 1935 in the Yeola Conversion Conference and culminated it with a formal public ceremony in 1956. Between 1935 and 1956 it was neither Mr. Vajpayee’s BJP who Ms. Patil was being critical in these remarks nor its spiritual mentor the RSS was guiding the people of the country. If there was anyone of a particular religion guiding the country it was Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. In making these remarks Patil demonstrated that she can evoke a particulary divisive sentiment to score a political point while giving it a veneer of political correctness. Smart politician perhaps but not quite the Stateswoman we are looking for. She goes on to wind up her intervention with more politically correct speak but with one interesting remark with relevance to the present times.

To day the situation is not such that it should be made a prestige issue. If some one thinks that they can form a Government by mobilising Muslims and Dalit brethern then he is under awrong impression.

Offstumped would like to pose a question to Ms. Patil if she still stands by these remarks and what is her stance on the Communal Socialism of the Manmohan Singh Government and how does she square those policies with these remarks of hers ?

The next intervention of interest was when Shrimati Patil spoke during the aftermath of the 1993 Mumbai Blasts. She begins her remarks with some a bi-partisan commendation of George Fernandes’ concerns but then goes on to hark on a vestige of Indian Foreign Policy that had barely served Indian Strategic Interests.

It is true that our country is considered as the greatest peace living country which has given the theory or principle of Pancsheel -not only to our own country but to the whole world. Those five .principles have been accepted by the world and the countries of world today want to follow those principles. Inspite of that if things happen in such a way in peace loving country like ours then it-is a matter of grave concern.

Clearly Ms. Patil world view was utterly out of sync with history and the present times. A troubling aspect given the times we live in and the moral clarity required to respond to terrorism. Contrast this with President Kalam’s Independence Day speech last year in the aftermath of the 7-11 Mumbai bomb blasts.

Ms. Patil then goes on to praise Mumbai’s resilience and narrates her own experiences from the day after. But she offers a first glimpse on what she thinks the national response to terrorism should be towards the end with a three point national agenda.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, without taking much time of the House I would certainly like to submit that now the time has come when we have to decide as to what should be out national agenda. There may be three points in the national agenda. There could, however, be more points, but to my view there are three points that are important and urgent. The issue of national integration and national unity is the first and foremost to be considered about. This should be the first item on our national agenda. All the political parties will have to shun their political differences. All the political parties should think in the interest of the country by rising above their party politics and self interest, this is the most important thing we require now. We have to frame our national agenda taking into consideration as to how national integration and national unity can be maintained in the country. The second requirement is that there has been no national population policy in the country so far. It is quite necessary to have that policy. The third point is that we should not tolerate any kind of religious fundamentalism in the country. We have to fight it out. We need to create such a situation in the country that might make the people feel that united we stand, divided we fall. The policy of living together can alone serve the interest of all.

That folks pretty much sums up how the front runner for the Indian Presidency feels terrorism must be tackled with some political correctness, some sunny optimism and some policy making thrown in strangely enough in the area of population control. Population Control btw has been a favorite of hers and in 1992 she did move a bill to provide for a national population policy and for measures to control the population in the country.

Now that we know how Independent a Thinker Ms. Patil can be and we also know what Intellectual Clarity she can bring to bear on critical issues of our times, we turn focus to one of the most important issues that she as President will be called upon to take a stance on – State’s Rights, Imposition of President’s Rule and Article 356. Given the UPA’s track record of running roughshod over State’s Rights by appointing pliant governors and the specific instances of Jharkhand and Bihar where the UPA Government was whacked by the Supreme Court for its Constitutional transgressions, it is all the more important to know what Ms. Patil feels about the Rights of States and to what extent she will stand for them.

Unfortunately in this area her track record is not very promising. As Rajasthan governor Pratibha Patil refused to sign an anti-conversion bill. The governor’s decision followed protests from the Congress and Christian groups. The Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill, passed on 7 April, 2006, prohibits conversions by ‘force’, ‘fraud’ or ‘allurement’. Incidentally, it was the Congress that first mooted anti-conversion laws in the country. While a bill was passed by the Orissa government run by the Congress in 1997, the Madhya Pradesh government had banned forced conversions through law in 1968.  More recently the Himachal Pradesh Government lead by Virbhadra Singh of the Congress has also passed an Anti Conversion Law.

Offstumped Poser to Ms. Patil:

So on which side does Shrimathi Pratibha Patil come on this issue ? Does she believe in States Rights to regulate conversion in a manner they deem fit ? If not did she ever take a stance within the Congress Party for anti-conversion laws passed in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and more recently in Himachal Pradesh ? How can she square the contradictions within her party on this issue ? What does all of this mean to how her Presidency will check the Center from running roughshod over the States ?

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