Celebrating Pratibha Patil

This is the 23rd installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

If you are an Indian, your heart should swell up with nationalistic pride today – and perhaps even explode. India elects a president as you read this, and it is likely to be Pratibha Patil. There has been much talk in the media about how she is unfit for that post, an opinion I have also expressed. But now I have seen the light. I was wrong.

Competence and intellect are optional attributes for a post that only has ceremonial value. Our president represents India to the world, and should be someone who people can take one look at and say, “Ah, so India is like that!” For various reasons, Pratibha Tai embodies much of India in her slender frame.

Consider, first, her spirituality. We are a spiritual nation, and Pratibha Tai actually converses with spirits. When she was nominated for the presidency, she revealed that she had been told by an enlightened soul that she was destined for bigger things.

“I had a pleasant experience,” she told an audience at Mt. Abu, where she had gone to meet a lady named Hridaymohini aka Dadiji, who runs a “World Spiritual University”. She had chatted with a gentleman named Dada Lekhraj, who died in 1969 but has presumably hung around since. “Dadiji ke shareer mein baba aye,” she told the audience. (“Baba came in Dadiji’s body.”) This, you will notice with pride, also has a touch of the erotic about it, which is quite appropriate in the land of Khajuraho and the Kama Sutra.

There are many advantages of having a president who can speak to spirits. She can chat with Gandhiji (Mahatma, not Sonia) over breakfast, and let us know his views on the world and Lage Raho Munnabhai. If George W Bush comes visiting, she can impress him by chatting with Saddam Hussein and asking him where those WMDs are. (“Dadiji je shareer mein Saddam aye.”) And so on. Lucky Dadiji.

Pratibha Tai will also not let India’s traditional sciences wither away just because they are nonsense. (What kind of silly reason is that anyway?) Consider astrology: Just last year, while launching an astrology website that she surely knew would succeed, she said, “Astrology is a serious and deep subject which has a great influence on our society. The growing expectations of the people from this subject requires application of science and technology.”

Under Pratibha Tai’s influence, astrology might even be introduced in the IITs. Her encouraging words could spark off an outsourcing revolution in astrology, as the rest of the world dials Indian call centers to find out what Aquarians should have for breakfast.

A president should have a vision for the nation, and Pratibha Tai fits the bill. During the emergency she had announced, “We are … thinking of forcible sterilization for people with anuvaunshik ajar (hereditary diseases).” This is laudable, because it is in sync with the oppressive policies of our great leaders Shri Nehru and Shrimati Gandhi (Indira, not Sonia), whose governments repeatedly denied us personal and economic freedoms – for our own good, of course.

Just see the impact of such a measure. All of us have genetic predispositions to some disease or the other. If we’re all sterilized, only government servants will have kids. (Babus will, of course, be exempt from all laws.) Thus, our mai-baap government will have the only mai-baaps around, and our population problem will be solved at one blow.

Pratibha Tai displayed a similar subtlety when she spoke out against the purdah system, claiming that it originated as a protection for women against Mughal invaders. The fact that she said this with her head covered spoke volumes about her feelings about the world today. Is it not be awesome to have a president capable of such nuance?

Many allegations have recently been made against Pratibha Tai, but are more like features than bugs. She allegedly protected her brother from murder charges, and mismanaged a cooperative bank she controlled by cancelling loans taken by her relatives. Is Indian tradition not all about taking care of your family? Also, using a cooperative bank to defraud people is an honourable political tradition in Maharashtra, and that state has reason to be proud of her as well.

It must be admitted that Pratibha Tai’s opponent Bhairon Singh Shekhawat also cares for his family – he reportedly helped his son-in-law get out of a CBI case. He might also be an unheralded pioneer of the great Indian art of corruption – he was allegedly suspended in August 1947 for taking bribes, as soon as India gained independence. But he can’t speak to spirits.

My heart is filled with delight by that old political adage that we get the leaders we deserve. Today, Pratibha Patil will almost certainly be elected president of India. Aren’t you proud?

*  *  *

You can browse through all my columns for Mint in my Thinking it Through archives.

Previous posts on Pratibha Patil: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.