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High office, highest propriety

The Congress’s decision to field President Pratibha Patil’s son, Rajendra Shekhawat from Amravati in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, was a needless one, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2009 22:09 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Congress’s decision to field President Pratibha Patil’s son, Rajendra Shekhawat from Amravati in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, was a needless one. Equally, for the President’s family to ask for a party ticket while she holds this high office is in violation of propriety. This one single action has put a shadow on the perception that the head of State is above the pressures and pulls of politics.

Various parties do field candidates for presidentship but once an incumbent is elected, he or she is expected to dissociate from any party affiliations. There are certain constitutional positions whose sanctity needs to be preserved at all costs.

There appears to be little justification for the President’s son to contest on a party ticket in these polls. If Rajendra Shekhawat indeed was so keen on proving his mettle, he should have either waited for his mother’s term to get over or entered the fray as an Independent. The President’s office cannot be dragged into any controversy.

From the Congress standpoint, it would have been difficult to refuse a ticket to the President’s son. But uncomfortable decisions need to be taken in the larger interests of the country. In giving the ticket to Rajendra, the party has sought to deprive its own minister and two time-MLA, Sunil Deshmukh, of another chance.

Deshmukh is contesting as an Independent and if he wins because of his commendable work, there will be many people who’ll be embarrassed. And even if he loses, and so does the president’s son, there will be some difficult moments.

According to party activists, Rajendra has not done enough work in Amravati and his father, Devi Singh Shekhawat, the President’s spouse, had lost his deposit from the seat when he contested on a Congress ticket in 1995. This happened when the president herself was the MP from the area. Since the election process has started, many allegations are bound to resurface and the president’s office will be needlessly dragged into controversies.

Rajendra had also embarrassed his mother earlier when as part of the official entourage of the president on a tour of Latin America as a VVIP member in April last year, he had gone off to Miami on a private visit for a day. Officials had explained that he had a business meeting with University of Florida functionaries in connection with the educational institutions run by the family.

The embarrassment caused by the first family is similar to what happened many years ago when V.V. Giri was president.

There were numerous stories that were doing the rounds and the late Chand Joshi wrote an exclusive report in HT in the early seventies on how vegetables grown in Rashtrapati Bhawan were being exported. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was deeply embarrassed by all this but maintained a silence as Giri was her candidate against Neelam Sanjiva Reddy when the Congress split in 1969 for the first time.

The president’s office is sacrosanct. Many presidents like Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain served with great distinction and brought dignity to the position. There are a lot of expectations from Pratibha Patil. She may be a mother but she cannot forget that she is also the president. She must intervene and prevent the controversy from getting out of hand. One way would be to ask Rajendra Shekhawat to withdraw his nomination. Between us.