The countdown for the next President has begun. Speculation is rife as many names are already in the air: heavyweights like Pranab Mukherji, Narayana Murthy, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Somnath Chatterjee, etc., are in the race.
The present incumbent, APJ Abdul Kalam, is due to retire this July. Some favour Kalam for another term. Sadly, no woman figures in the probable list.
Did we ever think of making a woman the President of India? Out of the 10 Presidents that Indian republic has had so far, no woman as been elected to the highest constitutional post of this country. Perhaps we hardly give it a second thought that woman should be given a chance to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhawan! In fact, it seems a forbidden thought to even name a woman for the post.
If we failed to produce a towering woman leader like late Mrs Indira Gandhi, it is because we hardly try to honour women with such coveted posts and bigger responsibilities. Out of the 32 cabinet ministers in the Manmohan Singh's UPA government, for example, only two women – Meira Kumar and Ambika Soni – figure.
However, they are given less significant ministries like Social Justice and Empowerment and Tourism. In fact, no woman is entrusted with the most important portfolios like Home, External Affairs, Defence, Railway, Finance, Human Resource Development, Agriculture, etc.
No woman has become Lok Sabha Speaker or even Vice-President ever. No woman, the guardian of Indian household affairs, has ever become the home minister of India since independence!
Except Indira Gandhi, no woman in India has been given the charge of ministries like Defence or Home or External Affairs, leave alone the prime ministership.
Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan, Jaya Parda, Hema Malini, Najma Hepatullah, Sushma Swaraj and Renuka Chowdhary can be, to name a few, some of the strong contenders for the post, if we try to refashion our age-old perception. We can consider Margaret Alva, as no Christian has been given the opportunity to become the President of India. Jayalalitha can be another contender. Or gritty Vasundhara Raje too is a good candidate.
Above all, why don't the UPA think about Sonia Gandhi to replace Kalam instead of wasting their energy on Pranab Mukherji?
It would be a red-letter day for Indian democracy, if we go for a woman president. By electing one, we can certainly be ahead of the US, the most freedom-loving, rights-conscious and gender-free country, which is struggling to elect a woman president in its more than two hundred years old history.
Among others, small and developing countries like Mozambique, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Indonesia have women head of states. Even Bangladesh can claim to have been ruled by two women prime ministers for fifteen years. In France a woman, Ségolène Royal, just trailed behind in grabbing the top post.
What are the possible hiccups? On the plane, there is nothing except people's perception – from political elite class to laymen – which never allowed to give room to such an idea. Or the very idea that woman does not fit the post. We have had enough of old faces and familiar names like Pranab Mukherji or Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for the post.
What newness will Pranab Mukherji bring to the post is widely obvious, as he will be another Gyani Zail Singh when the Congress is in power or what sublimity will 84-year old Bhairon Singh Shekhawat give to the President's post is an open secret that he failed to accomplish as Vice-President.
In contrast, Jaya Prada will carry a new lease of freshness to the post or Sushma Swaraj will come with a new hope for the woman or Hema Malini will realise novel speculation among the political fraternity. Or Shabana Azmi will help create a new dawn, a fresh motivating factor for countless women in the country.
Let us examine the NDTV poll that it conducted recently to gauge the people's pulse as to who should be President after Kalam. Of 200,000 people polled in urban India, nearly 50 per cent voted for Narayana Murthy followed by Amartya Sen.
Quite clearly, people preferred non-political persons to politicians. So, a non-political President can be an ideal choice. However, the leading news channel failed to float a woman name in the list! Why can't Dr Manmohan Singh come up with a woman candidate? Why is Vajpayee silent on naming a woman contender? Why does the Left not think about fielding Brinda Karat as its nominee?
If Indian women like Indra Nooyi can bag the 4th rank in the list of 100 most powerful persons, then why can't they succeed in bringing laurels to the President post? If a woman like Kiran Bedi can be a cop par excellence, why can't she be a better President? In spite of all the talk of women empowerment, Indian democracy still revolves round male dominance.
Do we have the guts to go for a change this time?
Samsur Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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