New Delhi: The ruling Congress party and its allies picked Rajasthan governor Pratibha Patil as their candidate for India’s next President, putting the 72-year-old lawyer in line to become the country’s first woman president.
The choice of a woman and a non-controversial one like Patil is likely to put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Opposition, which was set to support vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as its candidate, on the back foot.
“This changes the entire complexion of the contest,” conceded a BJP leader, who did not wish to be identified.
“Pratibha Patil is a surprise, of course,” said B.G. Verghese, a political analyst. “But a woman contesting for the President’s post is a good thing. And she has had a good, clean record as Rajasthan governor.”
While the post of President is largely ceremonial, it is vested with powers that can be significant in times of political crisis. The President is also the supreme commander of the armed forces, and is elected by lawmakers in Parliament and members of state legislatures.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), along with the Left Front, commands 46% of the 1,098,882 votes in the electoral college. And the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, with more than 5.5% votes, has pledged its support to UPA, giving it the vital edge. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has just 32% votes at its disposal. And with Patil in the fray, Shekhawat is likely to find the going even tougher.
Patil, who hails from Maharashtra, became governor of Rajasthan in 2004. During her term, she had refused to sign an anti-conversion Bill moved by the ruling-BJP party.
She held key positions in the Maharashtra unit of the Congress and ministerial portfolios before occupying the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson’s post for about two years from November 1986.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi called it a “historic moment” in the 60th year of the republic. Gandhi said a coordination committee would be set up to ensure Patil’s victory.
PTI contributed to this story.