After mudslinging, India set for prez poll

New Delhi, July 15:

India will elect on Thursday its 13th president, in all probability a woman for the first time, after a muckraking campaign that has already dented the prestige of the country’s highest office.

Never before in the history of Indian presidency have the leading groupings stooped so low, bringing to disrepute both the contenders: Pratibha Patil of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as well as Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

And although Patil’s victory is assured because she has numbers on her side, she is most unlikely to enjoy the kind of universal respect APJ Kalam has had since his election in 2002. The scientist steps down July 25 after five eventful years during which he became a household name.

The Patil-Shekhawat battle witnessed the most ugly personalised campaign, with both the Congress-led UPA and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA accusing each other’s candidate of incompetence and worse.

Election to the post of Indian president has mostly been a feel good affair, based on consensus among political parties. But the fight between Patil, 72, a lawyer-turned-politician from Maharashtra, and Shekhawat, 83, a BJP veteran and three-time Rajasthan chief minister, has been just the opposite.

The two sides have flung charges of forgery, fraud and financial impropriety against each other, disappointing millions of Indians who will not be voting in the election but are keen to see a worthy successor to Kalam.

The BJP has even launched a website - - to highlight the charges against Patil. The Congress has denounced Shekhawat for not quitting the vice president’s post before jumping on to the poll fray.

Patil has even been accused of shielding her brother, who faces murder charges. Though she has denied the charges as “malicious and baseless”, opinion polls say she is the least

popular presidential choice in recent times.

The one advantage Patil has is that she can be sure of winning.