Frankly, it gives me no pleasure to write this, as we celebrate India’s Independence Day. I maybe treading into a very controversial but yet an often talked about topic within Indian politics (read it better as “misuse of power”). However, I do not want to build up a clichéd debate over India’s much famed or probably notorious political parties/politicians. Instead, I thought I should evaluate the country’s most ceremonious post – the President. Unlike countries like the USA, the President of India as we know is not directly elected by the people but through its elected members of the Parliament of India (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) as well as of the state legislatures (Vidhan Sabhas). Now to figure the part, who among the Indian presidents was probably the most hated or disrespected?
To blatantly put it, the president in question had a potential to be a serious game changer for India, considering that it was the first woman president for the country. No prizes for guessing who I am talking about. Before the daggers are drawn out, I would like to state there were several events (or should I more appropriately say – “misdeeds” or “lack of deeds”), which Ms Pratibha Patil surprised us with.
Misuse of government funds for personal use
- Controversy over foreign jaunts: Ms Patil used government’s money for several foreign trips with family. According to this article, Ms Patil took up to 11 relatives on 18 trips in a year. The data which is based upon various RTI inquiries do seem to suggest a not so rosy picture for a person of the president’s stature. As mentioned in yet another report – “…since assuming office as the country’s first woman President in July 2007, Patil has undertaken 12 foreign trips covering 22 countries across four continents.” Usually presidents are supposed to meet foreign dignitaries and improve diplomatic relationships & cultural exchange. Yes, presidents of nations, do occasionally take family members along. But with our President, the travel expenses of Rs 205 crore had raised eyebrows with political watchers questioning the necessity for large entourages and frequent need to travel with relatives and grand children.
- Controversy over post-retirement home: Ms Patil has allegedly misused the government’s money to build a mansion on a 260,000 sq.ft plot, in a land at Pune belonging to war widows. A botched attempt to acquire this land probably left the government red-faced. This act of using government money to build a retirement home post-Presidency was an unprecedented one and the first by any president. As mentioned in this article:
Many officers who have served in Rashtrapati Bhavan in the past cannot recall another instance of a retiring president in recent times moving out of Delhi, and get the government to build a new house for him(her).
Tarnished reputation for a presidential post
- Acceptance of various gifts: A Right to Information (RTI) inquiry revealed that Ms Patil had taken several “gifts” given to her when she was President. Conventionally, presidents and other dignitaries who are given these gifts (as the President of India) deposit them with the government. It is trivial, but most of this could have been handled in a dignified manner befitting the President of India. Some of the details are available in this report.
- Not as worthy a successor to predecessors: The office of the President of India has been held in the past by many respected people, including Bharat Ratnas like Abdul Kalam, VV Giri, Zakir Hussain & Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Most importantly, during her Presidency of 5 years, Ms Patil has no significant activity or achievement of major note to her name. Her image had already been tarnished even before she took the role. Her predecessor A P J Abdul Kalam was very highly revered among Indians. When Ms Patil was chosen president instead of him, there was a major section of Indian citizens who either were unhappy or expected a lot more worthy action, as her predecessor.
- At least use your strengths: She was a woman – she could have been a role model for many. She was also a former table-tennis champion, but Pratibha Patil unfortunately did nothing from her capacity to encourage sports in India. Unlike her predecessor, A P J Abdul Kalam, who actively traveled and gave lectures on science throughout India, the least she could have done was to encourage table tennis in schools.
- Misuse of power by family for personal use: Patil’s son Rajendra Shekhawat, Congress MLA from Amravati, was accused of misusing his mother’s official position to consolidate his political base. Going against the dignity of the high office, Patil as mentioned in this report, inaugurated a flyover in her son’s constituency in December 2011. Shekhawat allegedly used his status as President’s son to acquire land worth Rs 1.5 crore for a charitable organisation headed by him.
- Personal salary hike: She did a self-appraisal in 2009 and announced 300% Salary hike for herself as well as vice-president. A three-fold hike was again unprecedented and badly timed, especially when India was in the midst of coming out of a troubled economic recession worldwide.
- Mercy overdrive: As a parting gift to the nation, Patil pardoned over 35 convicts on a death row – with no real justification. These included a few brutal child rapists.
Questionable claim to power/background:
- Her closeness to the Nehru family: A cook of good repute, she impressed Indira Gandhi preparing her favorite Maharashtrian delicacies such as the Puran Poli. Rajasthan minister Ameen Khan was forced to resign for stating in no uncertain words, that Pratibha Patil was rewarded because she cooked and washed utensils at Indira Gandhi’s house. Really hard trying to find genuine reasons for her presidential nomination. Go really figure!
- Prior history/reputation of less mention: Her claim to political career from Amaravati was again allegedly due to her closeness to Indira Gandhi. Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank was a cooperative bank set up by Pratibha Patil in 1973. The license for it to operate as a bank was revoked in 2003 by the Reserve Bank of India for alleged financial irregularities. Among the irregularities listed were the loans policy of the bank and loan interest waivers given, among others, to her relative. Alleged involvements in scams like the chit fund scam, tsunami relief scam, and felicitation scam or cases like the Vishram Patil Murder Case did not certainly help her cause.
As I mentioned earlier, it is personally not a good feeling to be writing against any individual. India needs inspiring leadership and all its people to look upon and follow. It is a personal outburst after what was a great cultural celebration in our residential community on the occasion of India’s Independence Day. If the head of the country at the topmost position is not a one to remember or look upon, how can we expect this to motivate rest of the country’s citizens?