Democracies are like cricket; they can surely throw up surprises for the unlikeliest or reasons. India on Friday was agog with stories of a woman set to make history as a possible first lady President of this great democracy. While India has had a woman Prime Minister, the redoubtable Indira Gandhi who was eulogized by one of her sycophants as the only 'man' in the cabinet, no woman has been even considered as a President hopeful. So when Pratibha Patil, a not so non descript lady governor of the state of Rajasthan was nominated as the consensus candidate of the ruling UPA, there was unsmitten joy written on the face of almost every woman in India. So who is Mrs. Pratibha Patil, many people asked, though she has been in public life for many years it was away from the lime light of national politics.
Born in a middle class family in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India's most prosperous state, she however does not belong to the powerful Maratha lobby in Western Maharashtra which has controlled the state apparatus for the past many decades. Her detractors claim that she has been a survivor in politics, loyal to the Gandhi family nominated to be president by Madam Sonia. No doubt loyalty to India's first family is a powerful qualification in the Congress party, where rumor mills indicated that many who were suspect including the present External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee were ruled out of the job of the first citizen.
But Madam Patil is not just a loyalist. She has powerful credentials of her own as an educationist. Along with her husband who incidentally is a staunch Rajput of the warrior clan of Shekhawats from Rajasthan, Mrs. Patil is running a number of institutions for women and handicapped. Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal of the Patils runs a chain of schools and colleges in native Jalgaon and Mumbai. An engineering college is being run for rural youth in Jalgaon and hostels for working women in New Delhi and Mumbai. School for poor children and assistance in setting up an Industrial Training School for the Blind are her other stellar contributions in the field of education.
Like Pratibha Hillary was also born in a middle class family and has been a lawyer of repute. Of course Hillary is a far more renowned lawyer voted as the most influential in America two times over. She too is interested in children and women issues and has been fighting for women's rights. While Pratibha has been working in the field of education, Hillary is more into legal aid for the poor and the under privileged including children having been on the board of the United States Legal Services Corporation, at the age of 30, a rare achievement indeed.
She will if elected be succeeding a powerful legacy left behind by President Abdul Kalam, who has inspired the youth through his regular interactions, flew in a jet fighter and dived down in a submarine. But Patil may without undertaking any spectacular feats upstage the peripatetic bachelor, she is also politically savvy and for the Indian National Congress, a loyalist as the President is a small insurance if things do not go its way in national elections which are due in a couple of years.
There is another woman president hopeful in one of the best known democracies in the World, the United States of America. This lady is of course well known, is articulate and many say was behind the success of her husband. She of course is Hillary Clinton, who stands a chance of being nominated by the Democrats for the post of the most powerful person on the Earth, Madam President of the United States.
Like Pratibha has been loyal to the party, Hillary has been equally loyal to her husband and stood by him probably against personal torment when as President he was accused of having improper relationship with a White House intern. For unlike Pratibha, Hillary's husband has been one of the most famous and powerful men, the President of the United States of America.
If elected President both will be the first women heads of their countries, Hillary after over two and half centuries of independence, Pratibha a much closer six decades or so. Yes Hillary will be far too powerful compared to the lady in Delhi who's role will be purely ceremonial or as some say a, 'rubber stamp'. But it would be symbolic enough for both women, for they would represent the rise of gender equity in its true sense in the defining democracies of the World. Yes but we still have to wait for a women Russian and a Chinese President for the fairer sex to be considered equal to their male counter parts.