07/23/2007, 00.00
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The Indian Catholic Church salutes newly elected President Patil

by Nirmala Carvalho
Pratibha Patil is India’s first woman president. Cardinal Toppo, president of the Indian Bishop’s Conference, greets the news reflecting on its importance. As governor of Rajasthan she had rejected the anti-conversion law, demonstrating her secular convictions and respect for Human Rights.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India has elected its first woman president, 72-year-old Pratibha Patil.   Cardinal TelesphoreToppo, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) commented positively on India’s election of a Woman President whose secular credentials have been proved.

Patil was the candidate of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance Government Congress party and its political allies, winning nearly two-thirds of votes cast in state assemblies and in India's parliament , defeating incumbent Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat 83yrs , the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Patil, former Rajasthan governor but largely unknown nationally until her nomination, has close links to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and was a steadfast loyalist of Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister. She will replace Kalam who has ended his five-year term and following the custom did not seek a second term.  Supporters say her election to the largely ceremonial role will be a boost to millions of Indian women, contending with widespread discrimination.

During her election campaign she was subjected to various accusations.  It was alleged that she protected her brother in a murder investigation and had allegedly been involved in numerous financial irregularities.

The new president, moments after the results were announced, briefly spoke to supporters gathered in front of her residence.” I am grateful to the people of India and to the men and women of India," she said. "And this is a victory of the principles, which our Indian people uphold. Once again, I thank every one of you. Thank you”.

Speaking to AsiaNews Cardinal Telesphore Toppo commented favourably on the election of a woman with a history of defending Human Rights:   “The Church in India – he says - welcomes Pratibha Patil as the President of India.  We extend her our good wishes and prayers so that she may discharge her duties always being sensitive to the vision of the founding fathers of the Nation”. For the Catholic Church this election is especially joyous as Patil as the Governor of Rajasthan, refused to sign the Anti-Conversion Bill and stood her mettle, thus proving beyond doubt her secular credential and her ability to withstand any external pressures”.

“We hope that this election will be an important step towards gender equality in India. This is strong message that India values the contributions made by women. Since our country’s independence, in 1947, India has adopted various laws “to help and protect women”.  “More women now serve in the armed forces, in senior corporate, media and government positions, and there are more girls in schools One-third of seats in village councils are now reserved for women. Sadly however, in certain rural areas in India, women are still relegated to a secondary status; this will give a great boost to Women all over the country, that it is possible for one of their own kind to be President of the largest democracy in the world. Indira Gandhi, was the First women Prime Minister so now India is poised to welcome her First Woman President.” “She will be a good president God Bless Our President”.

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