Indian politicians have just chosen a woman, Pratibha Patil, as President. She succeeds to an office which was planned to be a republican equivalent of a Governor–General. The first Governor-General of India after independence was the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, (pictured) who served briefly, but with distinction. But things have not worked out as the founders of the republic planned.
In 1975, to stave off a conviction for corruption, Mrs Indirah Gandhi advised the President, a political ally, to declare a state of emergency. When he hesitated, she reminded him who had appointed him and where his political loyalties should lie. This was precisely the time when the President should have acted independently as a check and balance against the abuse of power. But instead of rejecting the advice, as any Governor-General should have, he signed the decree, allowing her to gaol the opposition and to rule as a dictator.
According to the Times of India of 19 Jul 2007, Ms. Patil, aged 72, had been hit by accusations that she had protected her brother in a murder probe and shielded her husband in a suicide scandal, as well as allegations of involvement in a slew of financial scams.
Bruce Louden, writing in The Australian on 20 July 2007, reported that Ms. Patil had been chosen by her friend and Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi to do the bidding of the party. The Indian president plays a vital role, especially given the trend towards coalition governments. So the Congress party was determined to have its own person and forced through the election by federal and state politicians. The various scandals in her past were disregarded, including her support for forced sterilisations to curb population growth in the 1980s.
The country's leading news magazine, India Today, declared that she was an "embarrassing choice". It told the story of how a bank she had set up to empower women in the 1970s was liquidated 20 years later amid allegations from the bank's union that Ms Patil had lent large sums to her relatives that were never returned.
Mrs Indira Gandhi would have approved, but the founders may have regretted their decision to convert the office of Governor-General into a politicians’ plaything.