To absolutely nobody’s surprise, 72 year old Pratibha Devisingh Patil-Shekhawat, veteran of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress Party and lately the Governor of Rajasthan, will be sworn in as the President of India on Wednesday, July 25, 2007. She is the first Indian woman to be granted this honor.In addition to being a lawyer, a career politician, a Member of the Maharashtra State Legislative for 23 years, a Member of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament for five years and the Deputy Chairperson of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament for two years, Ms. Patil has also held various positions in charitable institutions.
She would also like you to know that she played a mean game of table tennis in her youth, talks to ghosts, believes the purdah system was a Mughal invention and her loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi remained absolute even in the aftermath of the Emergency. However, she would rather you skipped the bits of information circulated by the Opposition.
All this, however, is old hat. What interests me at present are the future plans of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
I’ve never been a fan of the BJP, which I’ve always considered a knock-off, hysterical version of the Congress Party, but even I’m a little taken aback by their actions during this presidential election. What exactly were they thinking?
From their initial wiffle-waffle about extending support to President Kalam to their inexplicable half heartedness about the candidacy of fellow party member Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (granted he’s not the kind of guy who gets you all jazzed up, but guys! He’s from your party! You chose him as Vice President!), they seemed to be a political organization in such crisis that I wondered if they were plotting their strategy based on the various SMS polls carried out by television channels in a desperate bid to be seen as “in tune” with the voting public.
An impression that was only strengthened when they carried out their dumb anti-Pratibha online petition, which seemed modeled on the pro-Kalam petition. Once again, the BJP chose to brand itself as the “anti” party rather than coming up with an idea or a name of its own. Here was an excellent chance for it to do what the newly formed “third” front, i.e. the “parties that can’t get along with anyone even if they offer to sell their souls while dancing a jig on the table” front, UNPA did – come up with a name that showed some thought had been put into the nomination even if it was a cheap political ploy.
Even the Congress came up with a name, however ridiculous that name still appears to some of us, but not the BJP. All this is making me look at the grief surrounding the murder of Pramod Mahajan in a new light – in hindsight, I’m moved to wonder is Mr. Mahajan was the only one who knew how to present the party as something other than the mess it actually seems to be. However, I guess sitting in a corner and pouting by itself is better than the kind of chaos the BJP can unleash at its fervent best, so that’s something.
But what’s the BJP going to do in the future? Say the UPA continues on its downward spiral and the voters give either the NDA or the BJP a chance at the Treasury benches in the next election – what’s its grand plan for working with a President that it has wilfully antagonized to a remarkable level? Did LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and company seriously believe their silly website was going to solve their problems for them?
Even if the post of President is more ceremonial than anything else, that great big palace on Raisina Hill casts quite a significant shadow. Are they just going to try and ignore it? Close their eyes and turn their heads every time they walk out of their offices on North and South Blocks?
The question here isn’t whether Pratibha Patil has a chequered past – who on earth seriously expects an Indian politician of whatever vintage to be spun from… rainbows and unicorn’s kisses? While some of the charges against her smack of wishful thinking, I’m perfectly certain that at least a few of those allegations are rooted in fact (although going by some of her recent comments, it’s entirely possible that she’s a bit, um, simple and had no idea those things were going down).
No, the actual question centers around the BJP – when is it going to make up its mind? Is it a right of centre party of progress or is it a collection of choleric individuals piggybacking on the biases of the great Indian public?
And if it is the latter, as I think it is, isn’t it about time somebody stepped into that great void and gave us the former? I might be a dyed in the wool liberal but I’d like to see some balance please. All these loonies are getting me down.