New Delhi: July 15, 2007. The Dalit Network President in an article issued to press here welcomes Pratibha Patil to be as future President of India. Dr. Joseph D'souza writes:
In a series of dramatic developments in New Delhi, the female Rajasthan Governor who refused to sign the anti-conversion law of the State-led BJP Government became the consensus candidate of the UPA government (the Congress Party and its allies) for the post of the next President of India. Women's rights groups, civil society leaders, and large sections of the media are enthusiastic about Mrs. Pratibha Patil as the UPA candidate as the July 19th Presidential election nears. India seems to lead the way in putting women in power at the highest level of Government.
Though the post of President is seen as ceremonial, it does play an important role in India's governance structure as the President has to sign all Central Government bills before they become law. If the President believes the Constitution is being violated in some way, bills can be sent back to the Parliament for reconsideration. The President also has enormous sway in an era of coalition politics when no single party is able to obtain the majority. The President decides which coalition is able to prove its majority in Parliament.
Mrs. Pratibha Patil's main challenger in the Presidential election is going to be the current Vice-President, Mr. Shekawat, who has been a BJP political leader in the past. Presently, however, Mr. Shekawat does not have the required numbers to win the Presidential race.
The Left and some other allies of the ruling UPA alliance rejected two other political leaders nominated as first choice candidates by the Congress Party. The Congress Party seemed to have got it wrong, as it did not seem to gauge accurately the mood among its allies.
The Left and their allies were concerned that the next President of India had an impeccable record on the 'communal' front in light of the rise of right wing Hindutva political forces that time and again have assaulted the secular fabric of the nation. After all, the main agenda on which the present alliance was formed was the provision of a secular alternative to the communal agenda of the BJP party.
The Left party's main concern about the two candidates who were not accepted was their perceived communal leanings. One of the candidates is the present Home Minister of India whose handling of some communal issues (including the handling of the anti-conversion law which was passed in Himachal Pradesh) has left some major political parties and major communities disappointed. There was also some criticism of the handling of two violent communal incidents in Gorakhpur and Belgaum.
In addition, there is widespread discontent within civil society on the draft bill curbing and restricting foreign aid to charities involved in social and educational work that is alleged to have been drafted by the present Home Ministry. While money through business is allowed to come freely (and by which India's caste structured society benefits the elitist minority), money through aid for empowerment, health and education of the majority oppressed is being severely curtailed by restrictive laws. There is no acknowledgement that India's new wealth and the new class of the super rich has not given rise to an equivalent new Indian generosity and philanthropy. Human rights groups believe that charities will be further harassed and intimidated by political parties who do not like the empowerment of the oppressed and marginalized peoples if the new draft bill goes through Parliament.
Representations have been made to the various allies of the present Government. Various petitions and delegations have approached leaders in the present Government to scrap the present draft bill on foreign contribution, as extremist political parties will harass and curb organizations that do not toe the line of their Government. During the BJP rule, scores of NGOs were harassed, intimidated and a few were even shut down.
Further, Dalit leaders have protested that the draft bill is anti-Dalit as much of the educational and health work going on among them will be threatened by political forces that do not want their empowerment.
There are some political leaders in the Congress Party who support the 'soft-Hindutva' line and it is because of them that anti-conversion laws and the present draft bill on foreign aid have been passed even under Congress rule when the party's public posture is that they are secular, pro-poor, and care for minorities and the oppressed sections of society.
This 'soft-spot' for undemocratic agendas has been the downfall of the Congress Party. Some of their leaders not only hold a 'soft-Hindutva line' that results in anti-minority acts, but there are also others who hold a 'soft-caste' line thus allowing for widespread discrimination against Dalits. Thus, their base among the Dalits and backward castes in the north and among the minorities has largely eroded.
Those who have supported the present UPA alliance were shocked when the Congress Party-ruled Himachal Pradesh government passed the anti-conversion bill as a direct result of the 'soft-Hindutva' line, when one of the allies of the UPA government, the DMK, had scrapped the anti-conversion bill in Tamil Nadu soon after they came to power on a manifesto of holding to the secular, democratic traditions of India.
So, given Mrs. Pratibha Patil's excellent track record on the communal front and following democratic traditions in her stints as Minister in Maharastra and as the Governor of Rajasthan, come July 19, based on the numerical strength of the UPA alliance and barring any major cross voting across political lines, India could welcome Mrs. Pratibha Patil as her first female President... and a strong secular, democratic President at that!