The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has a candidate for the country’s top job. And it’s not the Patil who was expected to get the nod. It’s Pratibha Devisingh Patil, a veteran Congress leader from Maharashtra.
Patil is now the governor of Rajasthan, the home state of vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is most likely to be running against her. Patil told reporters in Jaipur: "This (her candidature) shows women are respected in India."
While there have been a few women presidential nominees before, such as Lakshmi Sehgal in 2002, Patil would be the first woman to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan if she wins.
But she was not the Congress’s candidate of choice, at least not its first choice. The party was keen on fielding Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. But the Left refused to play along.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced Pratibha Patil’s candidature ending hours of meetings, agreements and disagreements, all happening under the unwavering glare of television cameras.
To show the UPA were back being one big happy family, they all came out of the Prime Minister’s residence together for the mandatory photo-op: Sonia, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and DMK’s M Karunanidhi.
That done, Prime Minister Singh and Sonia Gandhi phoned BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee asking for support for Patil. Patil's candidature was first endorsed by the UPA coordination committee and then by the UPA-Left coordination panel that met at 7 Race Course Road.
Sonia Gandhi called it a "historic moment". And the Congress will seek votes for Patil saying she is going to become India’s first woman president.
Pratibha Patil is married to a Shekhawat, Dr Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat, who comes from a village neighbouring that of the Vice-President's.
The Shekhawat angle to the contest was underscored by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Soon after the announcement at the news conference, he said, "She is not Pratibha Patil, she is Pratibha Patil Shekhawat." Everyone burst out laughing, also relieved they had a candidate.
It had been a long, long day of high-strung meetings marked by hard bargaining by a Left that was very sure it did want to support Shivraj Patil and a Congress which was running out of names.
The Left did not only refuse to endorse Shivraj Patil but also the others on the list the Congress had been taking around: Union ministers Arjun Singh and Sushilkumar Shinde and veteran leader Karan Singh.
A worried Congress went into a huddle with its UPA allies. The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi met the leaders individually to gauge their mood. It was at these meetings that Pratibha Patil's name came up first.
Some of the UPA leaders were only told of Patil, the others were given three other names, Rajya Sabha members Nirmala Deshpande, Mohsina Kidwai and Motilal Vora. But they all settled for Pratibha Patil.