Patil represented Edlabad constituency in Jalgaon District, Maharashtra as a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly (1962-1985), and was deputy chairwoman of the Rajya Sabha (1986-1988), Member of Parliament from Amravati in the Lok Sabha (1991-1996), and the 24th, and the first woman Governor of Rajasthan (2004-2007).
Pratibha Patil began her political career in 1962 at the age of 27. Under the mentorship of senior Congress leader and ex-Chief Minister Yashwantrao Chavan, she became a deputy minister for education after re-election in 1967 (in the Vasantrao Naik ministry). In her next terms (1972-78) she was a full cabinet minister for the state. In successive congress governments, she handled the portfolios of tourism, social welfare and housing under several chief ministers, Vasantdada Patil, Babasaheb Bhosle, S. B. Chavan and Sharad Pawar. She was continually re-elected to the assembly, either from Jalgaon or the nearby Edlabad constituencies, until 1985, when she was elected to the Rajya Sabha as a Congress candidate. She has never lost an election that she has contested.
In 1977, the Congress party split up after Indira Gandhi's defeat following the Indian Emergency (1975–1977). Many senior leaders of state Congress(I), including Pratibha's mentor Chavan and his protege Sharad Pawar, as well as much of the rank and file joined the Congress (Urs) party floated by Devraj Urs. However, Pratibha preferred to remain with Indira Gandhi, though it verged on inviting political ridicule. In fact, few know that Pratibha managed Indira Gandhi's kitchen when Sanjay Gandhi died. She protested the arrest of Indira Gandhi in December 1977 and spent 10 days in prison. In 1978, when the Congress (Urs) came to power in Maharashtra, she became Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly.
In 1980, the Congress (I) swept back into power, and her name was considered a front-runner for the Chief Minister's post. However, the post went to Sanjay Gandhi's confidant A. R. Antulay, who was soon forced to resign on corruption charges. Subsequently, she became a minister again in the Vasantdada Patil ministry. Following differences between Patil and then Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief Prabha Rau, Rajiv Gandhi appointed her as MPCC chief (1988-90).
In 123 Patil was elected to the Rajya Sabha, and served as its deputy chairperson from November 1986 to November 1988. Her term expired in April 1990. The following year, in the elections when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated she won the election for the 10th Lok Sabha from Amravati constituency, her husband's city, where he had once been mayor, thus first time entering in lower house of national parliament Lok Sabha.
She has also served as Director of National Federation of Urban Co-operative Banks & Credit Societies and the Member of Governing Council, National Co-operative, Union of India.
In November 2004, eight years after she had completed her term in the 10th Lok Sabha, Pratibha Patil was recalled from political hibernation to become the first woman Governor of Rajasthan. She was the second politician from Maharashtra in this post, the first being Vasantdada Patil. With Pratibha Patil as Governor, Rajasthan had women in three significant positions of power in the state, including Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Assembly Speaker Sumitra Singh.
In April 2006, the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly passed the Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill 2006 (originally titled as "Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrya Bill, 2006"). The objective of the bill was to control "unlawful conversion from one religion to another by allurement or by fraudulent means or forcibly." However, some Christian organizations opposed the bill alleging that the bill was an outcome of the rightist policies of Sangh Parivar. Pratibha Patil returned the bill unsigned, stating certain clauses in the Bill infringed on "the fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression, freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion.
The Government of Rajasthan re-sent the bill to her in May 2006 noting that similar anti-conversion laws enacted by Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa over 40 years ago were upheld by the Supreme Court of India and that the head of the Constituent Assembly, Dr B R Ambedkar, while drafting Article 25 of the Constitution had said that it would be best to leave it to the state legislatures to make laws to regulate conversions. After sitting on the bill for over a year she sent it to the President of India just a day before she resigned as governor of Rajasthan. A similar bill named Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2006 passed later was promptly signed by the state governor. Pratibha Patil resigned as the Governor of Rajasthan on June 21, 2007, due to her presidential candidacy.
On 14th June, United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the ruling alliance of political parties in India headed by Congress (I), and the Indian left nominated her as their candidate for the Presidential Election to be held on 19 July 2007. She emerged as a compromise candidate after the Left parties would not agree to the nomination of present Home Minister Shivraj Patil. At that point, Sonia Gandhi proposed Pratibha Patil's name. Her loyalty to Nehru-Gandhi family was widely perceived to be a major factor in her nomination as UPA-Left Presidential candidate. As a result of the potential that she would become the first female President of India, UPA Chairwoman Sonia Gandhi described her nomination as a "historic occasion" in India's 60th year of independence.
Before leaving Jaipur for New Delhi, she thanked Sonia Gandhi for choosing her and said that her first job as president would be to make National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) started by UPA a success. In Delhi she asserted that she would not be a rubber stamp president.
Accompanied by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi she filed her nomination on 23 June which was found to be valid after scrutiny. She faced Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, an NDA supported candidate, in a straight contest, and visited state capitals to garner support. Her campaign got a major boost with decision of UNPA to abstain from voting.
Shiv Sena, an important ally of NDA, declared its support to Pratibha Patil on the grounds that she will be the first Maharashtrian to hold this prestigious post. This decision of Shiv Sena created trouble in BJP-Sena alliance.
BJP leader Arun Shourie authored two articles published as a booklet titled 'Does This Tainted Person Deserve to Become President of India?'. Another BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, announced the launch of a website called Know Pratibha Patil, which contains various media reports and documents concerning the questionable financial dealings of both Patil and her family. The campaign generated a lot of media attention on Pratibha Patil as a controversial and unworthy presidential candidate.
While the BJP has been trying to build a strong public opinion against her, it clarified that it was not challenging her nomination on legal grounds.
The apex court however observed that it could not act on mere allegations, and rejected the petition at the admission stage itself. The court said there was no merit in the petition as there was no document to substantiate the allegations and raised doubts about the petitioners real intention adding it was more of a "private interest litigation". The court ruled:
This petition is filed under Article 32 of the Constitution. We find no ground to interfere and exercise our jurisdiction. However, this will not prevent the petitioner from approaching appropriate authorities for redressal of his grievances.
The advocate then approached the Election Commission of India seeking her disqualification. The Election Commission, through an order, replied:
The question whether a person has become insolvent and whether he/she is still an undischarged insolvent has to be decided by the competent insolvency court under the provisions of the Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920, and not by the Commission. The Commission is not the appropriate forum. No action is called for on the part of the Commission on your representation.
Following this, the advocate again approached the court and filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before a bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran. He contended that the Election Commission had not applied it's mind to the matter, and sought quashing of the commission's order.
In another case a Delhi-based NGO has also filed a petition before the Delhi High Court alleging that Patil being Managing Trustee of Mumbai-based Shram Sadhana Bombay Trust, which is under the control of state government, was holding the office of profit making her ineligible to contest the President's election. The High Court deferred the hearing until after election.
Prominent allegations against her that have been controversial are:
On June 22, 2007, Rajni Patil, a professor of Marathi in a Jalgaon college, and the widow of murdered Jalgaon congressman Vishram G Patil in a press conference claimed that her husband was murdered by Pratibha Patil's brother G.N.Patil. She accused Pratibha Patil of shielding her brother. She further said that she had written to Sonia Gandhi and President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam giving details about the allegations. Copies of her memorandum to the President on this issue were distributed to the press by Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni, an aide of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani.
On 13 July, 2007 Rajani Patil moved the Bombay High Court demanding that the CBI "interrogate" UPA's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil and her brother in connection with the case before the presidential poll. Rajni Patil's petition stated that the CBI, which was directed by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court to probe the case in February, must question Pratibha before July 19, the date for the presidential election because she might get "presidential immunity" if she wins the poll.
The lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani said that two CDs have surfaced which contain incriminating material against Patil's brother. The CDs contain footage of the elections for the district Congress presidentship in Jalgaon. Jethmalani offered to place both CDs on record, saying "These contain vital information showing the political link behind the murder."
Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank, a cooperative bank set up by Pratibha Patil in 1973 in her name, to empower women, had its license revoked in 2003 by the Reserve Bank of India for alleged financial irregularities. Among the reasons listed by the RBI for cancellation of the license was the faulty loan policy of the bank and loan interest waivers given, among others, to Pratibha Patil's relatives. Pratibha Patil was one of the chairpersons of the Bank and along with a number of her relatives, was one of its directors. She is currently one of the 34 respondents in an ongoing case in the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on the subject of mismanagement of the bank and misappropriation of funds by its Managing Directors.
In her defence, her supporters point out that she was not the founding president of the bank, and that she held the job of the chairwoman for only a month and eight days. They also point out that the RBI has never mentioned Patil's name in the report, and the court has not charge-sheeted her. Communist leader A.B. Bardhan cast doubts on the credibility of the official employees union of the bank, which has been highlighting the issue of the banks mismanagement since 2002, drawing attention to the fact that it is associated with the BMS union led by the BJP.
In 2002 the chief commissioner of central excise and customs, Pune, issued notice to the factory for evading excise duty resulting from diversion of export-oriented sugar by the factory into domestic market.
Dubbing as "malign campaign" the allegations, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, defended Pratibha and noted that there was never any enquiry under Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act against her. He also pointed out that as many as 74 mills were issued notices in December 2006, and it was "unfortunate that only one particular case has been brought up in the media". Pawar said most of the mills had failed to repay the loans because of persistent drought affecting sugarcane production, leading these mills to go sick.
Nevertheless in 2007, Manohar Lal Sharma, an independent advocate, filed a public interest litigation petition in the Supreme Court alleging that Mrs Pratibha Patil was an undischarged insolvent relating to the Sant Muktabai Sugar Factory and hence disqualified to remain in the office of the presidency.
Women have always been respected in the Indian culture. The purdah system was introduced to protect them from the Muslim invaders. However, times have changed. India is now independent and hence, the systems should also change. Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind.
|1967-72||Deputy Minister,N.H.E.A.,Scav, Public Health, Prohibition, Tourism, Housing & Parliamentary Affairs, Government of Maharashtra|
|1972-74||Cabinet Minister, Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra|
|1974-75||Cabinet Minister, Public Health & Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra|
|1975-76||Cabinet Minister, Prohibition, Rehabilitation and Cultural Affairs, Government of Maharashtra|
|1977-78||Cabinet Minister, Education, Government of Maharashtra|
|July 1979 to February 1980||Leader of Opposition, CDP (I), Maharashtra Legislative Assembly|
|1982-85||Cabinet Minister, Urban Development and Housing, Government of Maharashtra|
|1983-85||Cabinet Minister, Civil Supplies and Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra|
|November 18, 1986 to November 5, 1988||Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha|
|1986-88||Chairperson, Committee of Privileges, Rajya Sabha; Member, Business Advisory Committee, Rajya Sabha|
|1991-96||Chairperson, House Committee, Lok Sabha|
|November 8, 2004-June 2007||Governor of Rajasthan|
|July 25, 2007 to date||President of India|