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December 2009 - January 2010


Sagacious Heads Interact

by Krishan Ralleigh

Indo-British relations were forged ahead this month by the State visit of the President of India Mrs Pratibha Patil to the United Kingdom. It also provided the occasion to launch the baton to signal the start of Commonwealth Games 2010 scheduled to be held in Delhi. The president of India, a novice in the pomp and show of Statecraft, was meeting a person who was born in it and has had an experience of 57 years as the Head of State. It was surely a learning experience for the Indian president. Nevertheless, Mrs Pratibha Patil proved by her upright manners, lucid diction, forceful elocution and sagacious tete a tete with the Queen and various other dignitaries that she could stand up to the rigors of Royal hosting with aplomb and grace equally as well as any other Head of State who visited the Queen of Great Britain in the recent years. In fact she was the first female non-royal Head of State entertained by the Queen.

India’s president, of course, was no Carla Bruni who as the spouse of President Sarkozi of France paid a state visit to Britain earlier this year; and the whole British Media went ‘ga ga’ over her. India’s president was not so lucky with the British Media, who (with the dubious exception of ‘Hello!’ magazine) almost ignored the State visit of the president of India. The Times gave a small paragraph with a photograph of the petite President, with a very tall Royal Guard, taking salute at the Guard of Honour at the parade in Windsor Castle. It was a remarkable scene. A diminutive woman in bright sari being honoured with imperial regalia watched by thousands of her compatriots with a sense of pride.

State visits are not innocuous razzmatazz, as they are often made out to be by the media. They serve as very useful tools of foreign policy of the countries involved. Sometimes wrong signals emanating from such visits become diplomatic disasters; and it takes a long time to heal such wounds. Extreme precaution by diplomats on both sides is crucial for the success of a State visit.

Highly successful State visit of India’s president has demonstrated that the election of the first woman as the president was timely and the person elected has done proud to the country. There were some doubts about the choice before the elections because of her important position in the Congress party. She was at one time President of the Maharashtra Congress Committee. Nevertheless, after becoming President, she has shown her impartial attitude as envisaged by the Constitution of India. In many ways, the President of India holds almost similar powers to the Monarch in Britain. As such, the President of India has to rise above politics to become a symbol of India, combining in her personality and, in all its variety, the ancient heritage and a truly modern democratic nation that is India. During her tenure as President, even the members of her family have to refrain from active politics. It is essential for all the political parties to uphold the prestige of the office and refrain from unnecessary criticism of the person holding the office.

The election of the president should be on consensus basis. The present system of electing the president gives more weightage to the majority party in parliament. It will be far better for the prestige of the office that the president is elected by the country by proportional representation The person, thus elected will be the symbol of the nation in true sense of the term. The resounding success of the recent State visit to Britain, despite the apathy shown by the British media, has given fillip to more business collaboration between the two countries; and the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 provide golden opportunity to tourist department to leapfrog tourist industry in India. It needs to project India’s image more forcefully together with plans to improve infrastructure related to tourism.

On the 60th anniversary of India as a Republic the time has come to reassess the pace of development in the country. It has been, to put it bluntly, too slow, cumbersome and wasteful. The five-year plans based on, now moribund Soviet economy, and the linguistic division of the country, again borrowed from Soviet Russia, have proved to be impediments in the rapid growth of the country.

Mahatma Gandhi’s views on education and rural development have been disregarded by the central government in Delhi from the very first decade under Nehru’s Congress party. The village India remains underdeveloped, poorly educated and malnourished as compared to urban India.

President of India at her recent State visit must have noticed that there is no dividing line between rural Britain, suburban Britain and urban Britain. A wealthy man in Britain will always feel proud of living in a village where he shall have all the modern facilities available to him. The president also might have noticed that the British are proud of their heritage and do their utmost to preserve them. Surely, Mrs Patil must have been amazed to see how the Queen cherished the gift given to her by Mahatma Gandhi in 1947, a shawl spun by his own hands. As the symbolical Head of India, the President ought to be given the power to become custodian of India’s heritage in art, culture and architecture. This will be the most rewarding outcome of her State visit to Britain.

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