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Pratibha Devisingh Patil[1] (born 19 December 1934) is an Indian politician who served as the 12th President of India from 2007 to 2012. A member of the Indian National Congress, Patil is the only woman to hold the office.[2] She previously served as the Governor of Rajasthan from 2004 to 2007. She has been felicitated with Mexico’s highest civilian award Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2019.

Early life

Pratibha Devisingh Patil is the daughter of Narayan Rao Patil.[3] She was born on 19 December 1934 in the village of Nadgaon, in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, India. She was educated initially at R. R. Vidyalaya, Jalgaon, and subsequently was awarded a master’s degree in Political Science and Economics by Mooljee Jetha College, Jalgaon (then under Pune University), and then a Bachelor of Law degree by Government Law College, Mumbai, affiliated to the University of Mumbai. Patil then began to practice law at the Jalgaon District Court, while also taking interest in social issues such as improving the conditions faced by Indian women.[4]

Patil married Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat on 7 July 1965. The couple have a daughter and a son, Raosaheb Shekhawat, who is also a politician.[3][5]

Political career

President Patil with the Prime Minister of Nepal, Madhav Kumar, in New Delhi on 19 August 19 2009

The BBC has described Patil’s political career prior to assuming presidential office as “long and largely low-key”.[6] In 1962, at the age of 27, she was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for the Jalgaon constituency.[7] Thereafter she won in the Muktainagar (formerly Edlabad) constituency on four consecutive occasions between 1967 and 1985, before becoming a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha between 1985 and 1990. In the 1991 elections for the 10th Lok Sabha, she was elected as a Member of Parliament representing the Amravati constituency.[4] A period of retirement from politics followed later in that decade.[6]

Patil had held various Cabinet portfolios during her period in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and she had also held official positions while in both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. In addition, she had been for some years the president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee and also held office as Director of the National Federation of Urban Co-operative Banks and Credit Societies and as a Member of the Governing Council of the National Co-operative Union of India.[3]

On 8 November 2004 she was appointed as the 24th Governor of Rajasthan,[8] the first woman to hold that office[9] and according to the BBC was “a low-profile” incumbent.[6]


Pratibha Devisingh Patil with former Vice President, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh


Patil was announced as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate on 14 June 2007. She emerged as a compromise candidate after the left-wing parties of the alliance would not agree to the nomination of former Home Minister Shivraj Patil or Karan Singh.[9] Patil had been loyal to the INC and the Nehru-Gandhi family for decades and this was considered to be a significant factor in her selection by INC leader Sonia Gandhi, although Patil said that she had no intention of being a “rubber-stamp president”.[6][10]

In the same month that she was selected, as the member of the UPA Patil was accused of shielding her brother, G. N. Patil, in the 2005 Vishram Patil murder case. Vishram Patil had narrowly defeated G. N. Patil in an election to be the President of the District Congress Committee of Jalgaon and in September of that year had been murdered. Vishram Patil’s widow eventually accused G. N. Patil of involvement in the crime and claimed that Pratibha Patil had influenced the criminal investigation and that the issue needed to be examined before presidential immunity became active.[11] Her accusations were rejected by the courts in 2009[12] but in 2015 G. N. Patil was charged. No reference to the alleged involvement of Pratibha Patil was made at this time.[13]

Due to the presidential role being largely a figurehead position, the selection of candidate is often arranged by consensus among the various political parties and the candidate runs unopposed.[14] Contrary to the normal pattern of events, Patil faced a challenge in the election. The BBC described the situation as “the latest casualty of the country’s increasingly partisan politics and highlights what is widely seen as an acute crisis of leadership”. It “degenerated into unseemly mud slinging between the ruling party and the opposition”.[15] Her challenger was Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the incumbent vice-president and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran. Shekhawat stood as an independent candidate and was supported by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a group led by the BJP,[16] although the Shiv Sena party, which was a part of NDA, supported her because of her Marathi origin.[17]

Those opposed to Patil becoming president claimed that she lacked charisma, experience and ability. They also highlighted her time spent away from high-level politics and queried her belief in the supernatural, such as her claim to have received a message from Dada Lekhraj, a dead guru.[6][15][18] Various specific issues were raised, such as a comment made by her in 1975 that those suffering from hereditary diseases should be sterilised.[6] Another alleged that while a Member of Parliament for Amravati she diverted Rs 3.6 million from her MPLADS fund to a trust run by her husband. This was in violation of Government rules which barred MPs from providing funds to organisations run by their relatives.[19] The parliamentary affairs minister denied any wrongdoing on Patil’s part, and noted that the funds utilized under MPLADS are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.[20]

Patil won the election held on 19 July 2007. She garnered nearly two-thirds of the votes[21] and took office as India’s first woman president on 25 July 2007.[2]

In office

Patil in 2007 President Patil speaking at the Doon School‘s Platinum Jubilee in October 2010. Patil presenting mementos to the conductor of the Air Warrior Symphony Orchestra at the auditorium in thr Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Patil’s term as the President of India saw various controversies.[22] She commuted death sentences of 35 petitioners to life, a record. President’s Office, however, defended this by saying that President had granted clemency to the petitioners after due consideration and examining the advice of the Home Ministry.[23][24]

Patil was noted for having spent more money on foreign trips, and having taken a greater number of foreign trips, than any previous president.[25] Sometimes accompanied by as many as 11 members of her family, there had been 12 foreign trips spanning 22 countries by May 2012, when she was away on her 13th trip. Those completed travels had cost Rs 205 crore (Rs 2.05 billion). The Ministry of External Affairs said that taking family members “was not abnormal”.[26]

The Office of President has a five-year term[15] and Patil retired from the role in July 2012.[27]

Patil allegedly used public funds to build a retirement mansion on a 260,000 square feet (24,000 m2) plot of military land in Pune.Tradition is that a retiring president either takes residence in Government accommodation in Delhi or moves back to their residence in their home state;her use of government money to build a retirement home at the end of the presidential term was unprecedented.[28] Other controversies that arose after her retirement included her desire to claim both an official government car and fuel allowance for the running of a private car, despite rules clearly stipulating that this was an either/or situation. She also took possession of many gifts that had been given to her in her official role and was later forced to return them.[29]

Business interests

Patil set up Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, an educational institute which runs a chain of schools and colleges in Amravati, Jalgaon, Pune and Mumbai. She also set up Shram Sadhana Trust, which runs hostels for working women in New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune; and an engineering college for rural students in Jalgaon district.[30] She also co-founded a cooperative sugar factory known as Sant Muktabai Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana at Muktainagar.[31]

In addition, Patil founded a cooperative bank, Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank, that ceased trading in February 2003 when its licence was cancelled by the Reserve Bank of India. Among other failings, the bank had given illegal loans to her relatives that exceeded the bank’s share capital. It had also given a loan to her sugar mill which was never repaid. The bank waived these loans, and this drove it into liquidation. The government liquidator of the bank, P. D. Nigam, said, “The fact that relatives of the founder chairperson (Pratibha Patil) were among those indiscriminately granted loans and that some illegal loan waivers were done has come up in our audit.” Six of the top ten defaulters in the bank were linked to her relatives. The INC claimed that Patil had not been involved with the bank since 1994 but The Indian Express reported that it had official documents showing her involvement as late as 2002.[32][33]

Positions held

Pratibha Patil has held various official offices during her career. These are:[3]

PeriodPosition1967-72Deputy Minister, Public Health, Prohibition, Tourism, Housing & Parliamentary Affairs, Government of Maharashtra1972-74Cabinet Minister, Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra1974-75Cabinet Minister, Public Health & Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra1975-76Cabinet Minister, Prohibition, Rehabilitation and Cultural Affairs, Government of Maharashtra1977-78Cabinet Minister, Education, Government of Maharashtra1979-1980Leader of the Opposition, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly1982-85Cabinet Minister, Urban Development and Housing, Government of Maharashtra1983-85Cabinet Minister, Civil Supplies and Social Welfare, Government of Maharashtra1986-1988Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha1986-88Chairman, Committee of Privileges, Rajya Sabha; Member, Business Advisory Committee, Rajya Sabha1991-1996Chairman, House Committee, Lok Sabha8 November 2004 – 23 June 2007Governor of Rajasthan25 July 2007 – 25 July 2012President of India