While the country gears up to welcome the 13th President of India, it is time to recall the legacy of the departing incumbent, Pratibha Patil, the first woman president of the country. While speaking to a well-known media a few years ago, President Patil said before her election in 2007, she was under the common impression that a president is just a rubber-stamp but gradually through all these years, she realised that the idea was not entirely true.
President Patil was particularly concerned about two pressing issues, i.e., promoting women's rights and reducing the problems persistent in India's agrarian economy.
On Women's Rights
Women's issues have been a consistent concern for Pratibha Patil. She had said that women constitute a significant part of the country's population and India, as a country, can not afford to proceed if its women were allowed to lag behind. In 2008, the president had convened a Governors' conference where committees were set up under Governors of various states and they consulted state executive heads and NGOs to press to study the conditions in which women were living in the country and prepare reports recommending on ways to improve their lot. She also raised the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and tried to give the reform measures taken by various ministries a direction. She also fought against social problems like foeticide, child marriage and ragging.
Patil had also played an instrumental role behind launching the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women in March 2010. She also helped in setting up a panel for surveying gender equality and status of women in February. A third noble effort with which Patil associated herself to promote women's issue is reconstructing the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh or the National Credit Fund for India. The outgoing president also made a wholehearted effort to address the alarming fall in gender ratio. She even spoke out to rallies in Punjab, known for its poor gender ratio.
On Agrarian Crisis
President Patil was particularly worried by the intensifying agrarian crisis in India. She was touched by the farmer suicides and spoke to farmers in a rally in Nagpur in her state Maharashtra, which was most affected by the suicide problem. She spoke in favour of changing India's agrarian policies and many a times consulted with noted agriculture scientist of the country, MS Swaminathan on the subject. However, she always spoke that only state-induced reforms would not help agriculture. A second green revolution is the order of the day, she was heard saying many a time. She even worked towards building a coalition of Planning Commission, chambers of commerce, public sector undertakings and experts to improve agricultural conditions. A partnership between agriculture and industry was key for the economy to prosper, Patil said.
Another positive point during President Patil's tenure was her cordial relation with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, throughout her tenure. She appreciated the latter's cooperative and supportive nature on various key issues and the two met once every month on an average. President Patil fortunately did not have to play the role of an 'overlap president' since she assumed office in 2007 and Singh served as her PM throughout the tenure.
Patil always believed in meeting people. She had a knack of meeting common men during her tours across the country and also welcomed visitors to Rashtrapati Bhavan. She said she had received over lakh people at her official residence during her stint as the president. She was also the first Indian President to visit Laos and Cambodia after nearly 50 years. She enjoyed good terms with various foreign heads of state and dignitaries.
President Patil would be perhaps known for being a low-profile President who was not much heard, unlike say a president like KR Narayanan. But she has served the country in a true spirit and would be remembered not only as the first woman President of India but also a die-hard humanitarian.