In the end, the UPA's choice for the next President was both a Patil and a
Shekhawat-- Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil. Not to mention a "Marathi manoos", something that has already provoked Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray to begin drumming up support for her even in the BJP! And though Pratibha Patil has always used her maiden name, the name by which she was elected MLA in 1962, a little known fact is that her husband is a Dr Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat. Indeed, after Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced the name "Pratibha Patil" at a UPA-Left meeting at 7, Race Course Road, a beaming Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar shouted out gleefully, "Pratibha Patil-Shekhawat".
And so, after hard-fought UPA-Left negotiations, it was seen to be fitting that a woman becomes India's First Citizen in its 60th year of independence. In political circles, the UPA's choice is being seen as a masterstroke: not just the symbolism of having a woman in Rashtrapati Bhavan, but to find one named Shekhawat, as many had feared Vice-President Bhairon Singh
Shekhawat-- who had said he will contest as an independent-- might be able to induce cross-voting. Congressmen now triumphantly say, "Rajput chivalry demands Bhairon Singh step down for a 'daughter-in-law' of Rajasthan." Sonia is said to have called former PM A.B. Vajpayee for NDA's support. "It's too late to ask for support now," he is reported to have replied.
So who is Pratibha Patil? For one, after it was decided to field a woman, she emerged as the one with most impressive CV. (The others who figured on the 'shortlist' of 10 included noted Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande, senior Congress leaders Mohsina Kidwai and Margaret Alva.) At 72, Patil can look back on a varied political career, after she did her MA in her native Jalgaon and took a law degree in Mumbai. As a member of the...