Thousands of women rallied in the southeast city of Chennai to launch the campaign of Pratibha Patil, who hopes to become India’s first woman president. Patil, who is backed by India’s ruling party, the United Progressive Alliance, will run against current Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, an independent. On July 19, members of Parliament will vote to select the president — a largely ceremonial role in India — for the next five years.
At the rally, Patil called herself an advocate of women”s rights and expressed gratitude to her supporters, saying, “It is a moving experience for me to see such a vast number of women expressing their solidarity with me on this historic occasion,” The Hindu, a Southern Indian newspaper, reports. Once in office, Patil will push for 33 percent of Parliamentary seats to be reserved for women, according to The Hindu. Currently, one in six members of Parliament are women.
Patil has served a long political career, including serving as deputy Chairperson of Parliament in 1984, and most recently, as the first woman Governor of Rajasthan, India’s largest state. Since the announcement of her candidacy, rival parties have brought to light several financial irregularities in her business ventures, which could trouble her campaign.
Qatar’s Gulf Times reports that because she has the backing of key officials Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the ruling Congress party, and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Patil is a strong contender for the presidency.