Regarding your recent commentary (July, “President sahiba for India?”), whether or not Pratibha Patil was the “first” or “natural” choice is immaterial when India is on the threshold of electing its first woman president – symbolism no doubt, but what a great one! Even advanced countries such as the United States have failed to elect a woman president (though the chance of changing that situation is currently looming large).
Pratibha Patil was never a Page 3 celebrity, but rather is a low-profile individual who has an outstanding CV – a lawyer by qualification and practice, elected to the Maharashtra State Assembly fives times, once to the Lok Sabha, vice chairman of the Rajya Sabha, leader of the opposition in Maharashtra, president of the Maharashtra Congress committee, and governor of Rajasthan. She also has the distinction of having never lost an election she has contested.
Is loyalty to a leader or the party bad, or to be decried? Himal’s editors seem to suggest that this is a disqualification, that Patil would be a ‘rubber-stamp’ president of the ruling party. It should be clear that the president of India is a figurehead, and cannot have his or her own political agenda. Rather, that person has to toe the line as dictated by the prime minister, who is answerable only to the Lok Sabha. We do not want an ‘active’ president, who could create confusion by being an obstacle to the government’s decision-making process. Not only would that create instability, but it would not serve the purpose of a democratically elected government.
Let us not judge Pratibha Patil before she even (potentially) takes office. We should give her a chance to show her independence and sense of responsibility in occupying India’s highest constitutional post. It is naive to believe that women’s empowerment would be achieved if India were to have a woman president. Indeed, that did not happen even when Indira Gandhi ruled for years as the prime minister, a position with real power. Let us accept the reality: it is only a long, hard, continuing struggle by women themselves that can achieve gender equality in this male-dominated world.
D B N Murthy
No body contact, please
Regarding the focus on sport in Southasia in your July issue, let us look at the damage that cricket has done to India. Prior to 1947, only six countries played cricket at the ‘Test match’ level – the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa and India. Today, on the other hand, about a dozen play at the Test or World Cup level, at a time when the number of countries has grown to more than 200.
India is a cricket-mad country, with nearly all of its scarce sport-related resources thrown into this game of dubious value. Consider the facts. First, cricket originated in the UK, whereby physically unfit and idle gents of the upper classes engaged in this pastime. Second, cricket is not the most popular ‘sport’ even in the UK, nor is it the most popular in Australia, the current world champions. In both of these countries, cricket’s popularity falls to fourth place, after football, rugby and field hockey. Third, India dominated field hockey until 1964, and was an international force to reckon with in football until the mid-1950s. Fourth, India’s cricket team performs pathetically while playing overseas.
Why, then, did cricket become the reigning sport champion in India? My theory is that the upper castes in India took it on because it did not involve body contact. Since the higher castes had (and still have) most political and bureaucratic power, cricket has been shamelessly promoted at the expense of other real sports – football, hockey, track and field, gymnastics, aquatic sports, etcetera.
We in India have a sad absence of healthy cultural pastime, such as mountaineering, swimming, wrestling, boxing and other vigorous sports. Instead, we have fallen to this demeaning mode of passivity – going days on end watching the silly spectacle of two jokers hitting a leather ball with a stick, and eleven others running after it. This laid-back entertainment has ruined the youthful and elderly alike. There is a crushing need to liberate our masses from this rampant epidemic, which spoils the reading habits of the youth, and creates supine couch potatoes in every middle-class home. Boys and girls need to be encouraged to take responsibility for this themselves – to take on a more robust and active lifestyle, instead of being fed the ups and downs of cricketers.