By Harihar Swarup
One does not known whose victory it was; of the RTI or of President Pratibha Patil? Presuming there was no RTI, she would have jolly well gone and constructed her post-retirement mansion in Pune. Three cheers to the activists, who raised the issue, had their way and saved the land earlier reserved for soldiers returning from front and war widows.
Apparently, a damage to the President Patil’s stature has been staved off at the fag end of her tenure by agreeing, even though under mounting pressure, not to make her post retirement home at the controversial site in Pune.
The allotment of the plot, allegedly, was at the expense of the accommodation of Army officers. “The land belongs to the Army,” said Lt-Col (retired) Suresh Patil. “The President has got herself allotted more than five acres.”
This is the first time a President’s retirement home had created such a controversy. Many of the early heads of the nation preferred to head straight for their ancestral home when they left Rashtrapati Bhavan. Rajendra Prasad went back to Sadaquat Ashram in Patna, S. Radhakrishnan to what is now Radhakrishnan Salai in Mylapore in Chennai and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy to Lakshmi Nagar in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh.
When Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the fifth president, died in office in 1977, his widow, Begum Abida Ali, was allotted the house 19,Akbar Road, in Lutyens Delhi. She continued to live there till her death in December 2003.
When Giani Zail Singh’s tenure at Rashtrapati Bhavan ended, he wanted to go back to Chandigarh or somewhere in Punjab. But that was not to be. Militancy in Punjab necessitated tight security for the former President. Gianiji was advised to opt for a retirement home in Delhi. He moved into a modest ministerial bunglow in Chanakyapuri.
The rules provide for a house in a location of the retiring president’s choice. In places other than Delhi, it is for the state government to find an appropriate house. The state government will, in exchange, get a house in Delhi. R. Venkataraman, the eighth president, went to Chennai for a while, but later preferred Delhi. He was given a house on Safdarjang Road. Shanker Dayal Sharma and K.R. Narayanan opted to live in Delhi after retirement.
Pratibha Patil’s predecessor, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, lives in a double-storey house on Rajaji Marg, in Delhi. He preferred the house to some better addresses because it had two storey. The first floor is his library.
If one has to ask what was her major achievement in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the obvious answer would be—“she was the first woman President of India” and would go down in history as such. She has indeed been very lucky.
An Urdu couplet lyrically describes her career graph—Iss Jehan Mein saab apna mukaddar dudhtaein hai, kisi, kisi to mukaddar dundhata hai (In this world everybody searches his destiny, in case of some, destiny searches them). This is what exactly happed in case of President Pratibha Patil who completes her five-year term in July.
In Presidential election in July 2007, her name did not figure among the prospective candidates. But to surprise of everyone she emerged as a dark horse to replace APJ Abdul Kalam in the Rasjtrapati Bhavan. She was hailed as the first woman President of India. Her gender helped her to get the top post of the nation. Her worst critics called her “an elevated sarpanch”.
Let us look at her career graph: After an spell in wilderness, she was made the Governor of Rajasthan — 2004-2007– possibly, rewarded for her loyalty to Nehru-Gandhi family. She was a minister in her home state—Maharashtra, the Pradesh Congress President and later Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. Her tenure in these posts was lackluster.
People thought with her gubernatorial post, her political career will come to an end but it was not to be so. She became the President of India. She was lucky again; there was no crisis or constitutional problem during her tenure in the Rashtrapati Bhavan except some hiccups, concerning her family members, her husband and son in particular. Perception has gained ground that her tenure has been rather colourless.
Criticism about her 22 foreign trips, costing the exchequer Rs. 205 crores and to South Africa and Seychelles two months before demitting office, has not been fair. V V Giri visited 22 countries and R. Venkataraman 21. According to Vivek Katju, former Secretary in the ministry of external affairs, Presidential trips abroad are a vital part of the country’s diplomacy.
A President does not visit foreign countries because he or she wants to; the head of the state does so at the request of the government and a foreign country is selected only after extensive consultation within the external affairs ministry. The MEA’s views are then sent to the Prime Minister’s office and then forwarded for PM’s approval.
The choice, Katju says, is determined by the need to strengthen emerging relationships, invigorate old friendships, renew neglected bonds and lobby discretely for specific commercial, economic and security interests. All these have reflected in the foreign visits of President Patil, he says. (IPA Service)