By Shyam Pandharipande
Nagpur : Even as it received outgoing President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam with its characteristic warmth Saturday, Maharashtra's Vidarbha region had yet another reason to rejoice – the nomination of its daughter-in-law Pratibha Patil for India's highest office by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
"It is a happy coincidence that we received the news of Pratibhatai's nomination when we were preparing for Kalam's visit," said Kundatai Vijaykar, who was the first woman mayor of Nagpur. "Pratibhatai" is an honorific, and that is how most people address her.
Born into the wealthy Jalgaon town of Maharashtra, Pratibha Patil was married to Devisingh Shekhawat of Amravati in Vidarbha 42 years ago and has represented the city in the Lok Sabha from 1991 to 1996.
Along with her husband, who was the first mayor of Amravati, Pratibhatai established an educational institute, Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which runs a chain of schools and colleges in the city besides Jalgaon and Mumbai.
Rushing to Jalgaon after hearing about his wife's nomination, an elated Devi Singh Shekhawat told reporters Friday night that it was a pleasant surprise and a matter of gratification for the family.
"Given her amiable nature and a long, spotless stint in politics, I hope no one will oppose her nomination," he said.
Recalling Pratibha Patil's close association with her father, former Maharashtra assembly speaker Sheshrao Wankhede, Vijaykar told IANS that she was eminently suited to hold the august office not only because of her long experience as a minister, deputy speaker of the Rajya Sabha and as governor, but also because of her equanimity.
"My father always admired this junior colleague of his for her sobriety, acumen and balanced approach and we, as apprentices in politics, looked up to her as our role model," Vijaykar told IANS.
Leading his state in celebrating Pratibha Patil's nomination was, of course, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who called the decision a matter of pride for Maharashtra. Set to be the first woman president of India, Patil is the first person from Maharashtra to be nominated for the august office.
While Maharashtrians had high hopes of someone from their state being nominated – veteran politicians Sushilkumar Shinde and Shivraj Patil besides Gandhian social worker Nirmala Deshpande — hardly anyone had inkling about the low-key governor.
Elected to the Maharashtra assembly for the first time in 1962 from Edlabad in Jalgaon district at the young age of 28, Pratibha Patil was a minister in the state cabinet for 23 years, from 1967 to 1985, with a gap of eight months in 1979-80 when she was leader of the opposition facing Sharad Pawar as the Progressive Democratic Front chief minister.
She was also the president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) during 1988-90.