The â€˜tokenâ€™ woman President By Kishwar Desai, I donâ€™t know how many people, if one took a straw poll, would say that they like or even admire Ms Pratibha Patil, our esteemed President. Havenâ€™t you often wondered how she reached where she is today â€” because she appears to be spectacularly lacking in any specific talent, apart from dressing in the 19th century long-sleeved blouses? Only someone who has dwelt for a long time in air-conditioned rooms could cover herself from head to toe the way Ms Patil does. But sadly she could not cover up the many scandals which have dogged her tenure with the same ease. It remains a complete mystery why, in a country which has so many better qualified and much more deserving women (if Ms Patil was indeed chosen on the basis of gender), it had to be her? Did the Congress party simply want someone who would acquiesce to its requirements? Even if a â€˜figureheadâ€™ president had to be chosen â€” couldnâ€™t they find someone who was not so obviously chosen for what she would not do? Ms Patil will be remembered mainly because she has had no memorable impact on anything. But what a wasted opportunity her five years have been! In an India where women are being abused and battered, and where the sex ratio is getting alarmingly skewed â€” we desperately needed not a demure and diminutive (pun intended) figure â€”but someone who was bold and outspoken on issues of gender. Or someone who took an imaginative lead on what the President could achieve on social change, if not on political issues. She could have taken the lead and used Rashtrapati Bhavan, as the highest office of the land, and become pro-active in creating a gender-neutral environment. She could have even announced how she is changing the staffing pattern of Rashtrapati Bhavan, making it more favourable towards women. She could have used the many rooms within the Bhavan to hold regular brainstorming sessions with members of the public about why this wonderful countryâ€™s gender ratio is reaching dangerous proportions. She could have even tried to suggest important policy changes in this matter â€” and made the governors of all states, who report to her, follow a gender neutral agenda and take on a stronger social role in promoting equality between the sexes. Not as an academic exercise, but as a passionate piece of advocacy, where they could have supported social change whilst not interfering in the political agenda of the states. But alas, Ms Patil chose to turn the proverbial blind eye â€” quite forgetting that apart from her docility, she was also chosen because she is a woman. And now of course, she will also be remembered for the fact that she has chosen a rather grandiose retirement home in Pune. But why would we have expected anything different? After all, this President showed no interest in frugality during her tenure. Whilst at least the leader of the Congress Party, Ms Sonia Gandhi, did press for less luxurious living for all those in government (and even travelled economy class), it made little difference to most members of Parliament and certainly not to the President. Given that at least 30 per cent of the population of this country lives on under Rs 30 a day, she has been known to routinely hire private aircraft on presidential visits. The argument that the prestige of the country is at stake if the President travels with less pomp and entourage does not hold up. One forgets that personality often dictates the reception one gets: if Mahatma Gandhi in his loincloth could raise the profile of India, why couldnâ€™t Ms Patil with her nine-yard silk saree? But it is certainly a tempting argument to fall for, and the bureaucracy and spokespersons at Rashtrapati Bhavan will no doubt give an interesting spin why so much had to be spent on Ms Patilâ€™s travels. The fact remains that this is a figurehead President who got very lucky in being chosen for a post she would have never got in an open selection. So is this time, therefore, to take stock and find out if we need to change the way in which our President and governors are chosen? Why are we, the taxpayers, spending so much on these motley men and women who are merely given sinecures by their grateful political masters, but have nothing to contribute towards the well-being of the country? Indeed, the saga of Ms Patilâ€™s retirement home fits in very well with the tragic way in which Presidents are selected. While Rashtrapati Bhavanâ€™s spin masters have again leapt to her defence stating that she needs this large (2.60 lakh square feet, according to one estimate) estate to live in comfortably, shouldnâ€™t the taxpayers of this country have at least a right to ask why she needs such a large space? According to one report, if a ready bungalow is not available for the Presidentâ€™s retirement, the leased area taken for her would not exceed 2,000 square feet (living area). Even by those standards, by knocking together two bungalows the living area here seems much more than 2,000 square feet. It is also astonishing that so much has already been done to accommodate this Presidentâ€™s retirement plans, including the destruction of a British-era bungalow on defence land. Usually there are very strict rules about this. Perhaps this is a â€˜Thank youâ€™ note from the government for services well rendered? But what has she done for the country that we should gratefully bestow this prestige and honour upon her? You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "born2battle" group. To post to this group, send email to [email protected] For more options, visit this group at http://groups.google.com/group/born2battle?hl=en GREEN THUMB INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION GROUP http://justiceforjawans.org/ ***************** Received on the email from my friend, Lt Col Suresh Patil, who fought the war with me in 1971 and was recently on TimesNow over President Patil's post retirement controversy where she was usurping defence land for a palatial house or so it is said. Lt Col Patil is a veteran who took premature retirement, gave away his land to his village and lives in a servant's quarter in the cantonment and is a social service worker. He runs an NGO Greenthumb. Imagine the psychology of service of this Indian Army officer, who has given away all his material comforts to still serve the Nation!!!! I can vouch for his work since I have seen one of his projects in Pune where he channelised sewage water and made it a Nature Walk where he planted trees and today it is an environmental wonder. He has many such projects all for the good of not only Pune but elsewhere too! I found it amusing that where as one Patil gives away all his land and everything and another Patil is busy usurping some land illegally after having had the best of life without any credentials worth its name!