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Pratibha is Prez
Defeats Shekhawat by a big margin
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 21
In recording a stunning victory over Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, contesting as an independent, on Saturday, Pratibha Devisingh Patil became the country’s first woman President. She will be sworn in as the 13th Head of State on July 25.

The 73-year old UPA-Left nominee won by a huge three-lakh margin that saw Shekhawat scoring a duck in four states and also cross voting against him in BJP-ruled Gujarat and Chhattisgarh and some other states ruled by allies.

In the other saffron-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, Shekhawat did not poll even the expected votes with 11 declared invalid because of writings like ‘Om’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’, apparently indicating rebellion in the BJP voters.

Shortly after the official declaration of Patil’s victory, 84-year old Shekhawat quit as Vice-President. He drove to Rashtrapati Bhavan to handover his resignation to President A P J Abdul Kalam.

In the final count, Patil got a vote value of 6,38,116 while Shekhawat secured 3,31,306 in the electoral college of 10.98 lakh.

Much as Shekhawat and his campaign managers hopelessly banked on cross-voting as evidenced in 2002 when he contested for the office of Vice-President, it backfired in several states in the presidential poll held on Thursday where legislators of the BJP and other constituents of the NDA openly came forward to back Patil which pushed up her tally way beyond the expectation of the UPA.

With Patil’s election being made public, she told mediapersons at her temporary residence here that “it is the victory of principles the people of this country have upheld”. She thanked everyone and described her win as that of the right-thinking people.

In at least four states — West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Mizoram — Shekhawat drew a blank with the votes going en bloc to Patil. Compared to that Patil was comforted in the unexpected backing she got in the form of votes in the BJP or NDA-ruled states.

The 73-year-old erstwhile Rajasthan Governor virtually had a clean sweep in her home state of Maharashtra (233 MLAs supporting Patil and 58 favouring Shekhawat) with the Shiv Sena claiming that they set the ball rolling for Pratibhatai’s elevation as the first woman President of the country.

There was added pride for the Shiv Sena which broke ranks with the NDA in extending support to a woman nominee which boosted Maharashtra’s pride.

What impartial observers found interesting is that the attack against Patil in the run-up to the presidential poll by the BJP failed to make any impact. If anything the strategy backfired and found more sympathy for Patil.

It was a similar story in most of the Congress and Left-ruled states. In Haryana, Patil got 74 to Sehkhawat’s 6, Himachal Pradesh (47-20), Manipur (55-5), Meghalaya (49-6), Andhra Pradesh (233-2), Arunachal Pradesh (58-1), Assam (92-20), Jharkhand (49-28), Delhi (50-19), Goa (25-14), Nagaland (40-12), Sikkim (31-1) and Tamil Nadu (171-59).

It was apparent Shekhawat would get more votes in the NDA-ruled states, including Rajasthan, from where he hails. In Bihar, he got 145 to Patil’s 89, Chhattisgarh (51-37), Gujarat (123-57), Madhya Pradesh (163-56), Punjab (66-45), Orissa (100-46) and Rajasthan (134-63).

There were celebrations since the forenoon, both in her native Jalgaon and Sikar from where her husband Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat comes and has since settled in Maharashtra. She has traversed a long way from her days as a lawyer in Jalgaon to earning the distinction of being the first woman President of the country. Having been part the burly ways of politics, she epitomises the traditional Indian woman.

A long-time Congress loyalist, Patil’s uncontroversial public life for four decades was suddenly subject to vitriolic attacks in the run-up to the presidential election. Having had a long innings in politics, she was suddenly brought into the spotlight while serving as the Rajasthan Governor and made the presidential nominee of the Congress-led UPA supported by the Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

In announcing her candidature, Congress president Sonia Gandhi described it as an important milestone for women in the world’s largest democracy.

Even as society and people from all sections watched Patil with some trepidation, there was never any doubt that in the electoral college of the two Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures, the numbers were heavily stacked in Patil’s favour.

She was born in December 1934 and studied in Jalgaon and Mumbai to earn postgraduate degrees in arts and law and practised as an advocate in Jalgaon. Coming from a humble family, her father was a public prosecutor. From social work, she joined the Congress and was elected to the Maharashtra assembly in 1962 for the first time. Three years later, she married Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat, a Maratha of Rajasthani origin. From 1972 to 1978, Patil was a cabinet minister in Maharashtra. She was the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra assembly in 1979. She was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1985 and became the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha for two years from 1986.

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