With the NDA electing Droupadi Murmu as its Presidential Candidate, one is reminded of Pratibha Patil, the first woman to become the President of the Republic of India. While Murmu is already being hailed as a humble, grassroots face and is likely to become the first tribal woman President, Patil’s tenure is remembered to this date for all the wrong reasons.
From her jet-set foreign trips with family entourages to personal possession of diplomatically exchanged gifts, Pratibha Patil always reflected an aristocratic demeanour during her presidency.
Exquisite Foreign Trips
The former Congress leader, who was most presumably elevated for being a Sonia Gandhi loyalist, Pratibha Patil served as India’s President from 2007 to 2012. Her tenure has been one of the most insignificant ones and was more known for spending way too much of taxpayers’ money on her foreign travels.
Her foreign trips with her family members cost the exchequer as much as Rs 205 crore. Patil would frequently take her entire family including her grandchildren on foreign holidays on public money. Apart from this, she was regularly accompanied by her husband, her son’s family and her daughter’s family on state visits.
An RTI filed by activist S C Agrawal stated that Pratibha Patil went with at least 10 of her kins to travel across places in India. Patil’s relatives were to be treated as Presidential guests upon her order. In her foreign travels, she used to take her grandchildren to countries like Poland, the UK, Russia, Spain and other countries. Patil’s exquisite travels caused much furore during her tenure, a criticism she royally ignored.
Personal possession of foreign gifts
Another RTI was filed by the same activist when it was found that Pratibha Patil had taken gifts exchanged during diplomatic visits to her personal possession. While gifts received by the President are to be deposited with the official treasury of gifts in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Patil had packaged over 150 gifts received by her from her foreign counterparts to her hometown in Amravati, Maharashtra.
The gifts included a stone box presented to her by the US President, a candle set from the British PM, a wooden framed photo from the President of Vietnam, a memento from the FIFA president, a gold medallion and a silver medallion of Nelson Mandela besides a gift box from China. These were displayed at a school exhibition organised by Vidya Bharati Shaikshanik Mandal headed by Patil herself.
When Pranab Mukherjee took over as the President after Patil’s tenure ended, the office of his secretary asked Patil to return all the gifts as soon as possible. Pratibha Patil, even after her tenure ended, continued to be engulfed in controversy over her exorbitant expenditure on a personal lifestyle managed by public money.
A post-retirement house in Pune
In the 340-room Rashtrapati Bhavan, India’s ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam managed himself in a mere two – a bedroom and his office. However, Pratibha Patil showcased a behaviour quite opposite to her predecessor. During her tenure, The Rashtrapati Bhavan housed not only Patil’s family but a host of her other relatives as well. As guests, their lifestyle was taken care of by the public exchequer as well.
After her retirement, Patil built herself a mansion in the cantonment area of Khadki in Pune. For her post-retirement house, she demanded a plot of over five acres to build her lavish 4,500 sq. ft. house. Controversy erupted when it was found that Patil was adamant to build a house for herself, which was on a defence land.
Pune-based organisation ‘Justice for Jawan’ alleged that Patil’s house was to be built on the land by destroying two British-era bungalows meant for armed forces servicemen. It is to be noted that Patil’s house was also being built on government money, when she claimed accommodation under the President’s Emoluments and Pensions Act, 1951.
Anup Awasthi, a former navy officer informed, “A number of times, the war widows had tried to meet Patil to return the gallantry medals that had been awarded to their husbands as a protest against the government’s apathy towards war widows. But she did not even bother to meet them.”
The first female President of India, Pratibha Patil’s tenure was always heralded in one controversy or another. Her reflection as a ceremonial head of the state, which she took quite personally, was anything but humble.