The release of the book on the hon’ble former President of India Smt. Pratibha Patil

19-03-2013    Dr R A Mashelkar

 Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri Hamid Ansari ji, Hon’ble Former President of India, our beloved, Smt Pratibha tai Patil ji, Hon’ble Shri Devisingh Shekhawat ji, Prof Sunaina Singh ji, distinguished eminence, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a special honour and a privilege to have had this opportunity of speaking on the momentous occasion on the release of this book “The First Woman President of India: Reinventing Leadership”.

We need to reinvent India. For this, we need to reinvent our Indian leadership itself. And this book gives a fascinating account of how this reinventing of leadership has been done at the level of the state itself in such an inspiring way during the five years of Presidentship of Smt Pratibha tai Patil.

Today, I will reflect on these five years – as I have seen from the vantage point of a scientist and the Chairman India’s National Innovation Foundation.

Ladies and gentlemen, while addressing the joint session of the Parliament on 4th June 2009, respected Pratibha tai gave the clarion call that this ensuing decade be the ‘Indian Decade of Innovation’. And our Hon’ble Prime Minister followed it by declaring 2010-20 as Indian Decade of Innovations. Thus, the entire nation was galvanised into action by just this one clarion call by respected Pratibha tai. That is a truly inspiring leadership.

National Innovation Foundation (NIF) is playing its own key role in fuelling innovation across India. NIF is based on a fundamental belief. India’s 1.2 billion people just do not represent 1.2 billion mouths, they represent 1.2 billion minds. Minds that can think, innovate, create. NIF gives a voice, a platform, a recognition, a reward, a helping hand to all those unaided grassroots innovators, be they farmers, artisans, housewives, school drop-outs.

We honour the best of them by giving national awards biennially. We have had the privilege of the President of India giving away these awards over the years.

It was in November 2009 that we had the privilege for the first time, when respected Pratibha tai gave away these awards. And there was a spontaneous gesture from her during the awards ceremony itself. She was both touched and impressed by what the award winners were able to achieve, some of them even illiterate villagers. She said that we should hold an exhibition of these awards around the premises of Rashtrapati Bhavan itself so that thousands of visitors, who visit Mughal Garden can also see what these Indian minds were able to achieve. This practice of holding both the awards function as well as the exhibition of the awardees of Rashtrapti Bhavan created a history. Our respected Pratibha tai became the first ever Head of the State in the history, not just of India, but of the world, of holding such exhibitions and giving space, honour and recognition to grassroots innovators.

But that was not the only thing. We discovered that respected Pratibha tai was an innovator par excellence herself. When she would go around the exhibitions, she herself would take a keen interest in each exhibit. Make suggestions for improvement – for their widespread use – ask her staff to connect the relevant ministries with proliferation of the innovations.

She was very deeply concerned about the challenges in dry land farming. She took a specific issue. The plight of farmers in Vidarbha. After sowing the rains will vanish for days or weeks together. The crop failure under these conditions was creating disasters. She thought the targeted supply of water at the roots of plants at critical stage could make a big difference. She created the idea of mobile drip irrigation.

Respected Pratibha tai asked us to put a national challenge on finding solutions to this problem. She tasked NIF to take this up. Prof Anil Gupta is the life, is the driver, is the leader of incredible energy and commitment. He and his colleagues set up the challenge for national level thinking on solutions – and ideas came pouring in. Dharamvir Kamboj from Haryana, Radheshyam Sharma from MP, they came out with brilliant solutions.

On 7th July 2012, we demonstrated these solutions to Pratibha tai. I still remember those incredible scenes. Forgetting the protocols for the President, she would bend down, feel and test the solutions, make suggestions for improvements and alternative designs.

In respected Pratibha tai, we saw a true innovator.

In fact, most of her suggestions were incorporated and finally three designs emerged – a rickshaw sprayer, a self propelled sprayer-cum-sprinkler and a tank sprayer.

But respected Pratibha tai did not stop at that. On 8th July 2012, Shri Shivraj Patil, Hon’ble Governor of Punjab was at Rashtrapati Bhawan. She showed him their innovations and recommended to him that the tank sprayer be propagated in Punjab. Such was her commitment!

And that commitment, ladies and gentlemen, still continues. I am proud to say that the practice of holding both the awards function and exhibition at Rashtrapati Bhawan continues. Our President, Hon’ble Shri Pranab Mukherjee, gave away the NIF awards on 7th March. Respected Pratibha tai Patil visited the exhibition with the same enthusiasm and commitment. What is more, she invited the award winners at her residence that evening. Spoke to each of them individually. Encouraged them. Applauded them. Inspired them.

And she continues to challenge us at NIF. She is very concerned about the women in India. You will see in this book the great initiatives she has taken during her Presidency to improve the quality of life and status of women in India.

But then she asked us to come out with innovations, which will remove the drudgery of women in agriculture. You must have seen that it is mostly women, who do the manual paddy planting. It is back breaking exercise, since it is done for hours. Similarly, tea leaf plucking and putting it in the bag at the back. Try and move your hand in the way these women do thousands of times in a day. And you will sense the pain and drudgery.

We at NIF are searching for innovative solutions for these challenges posed by respected Pratibha tai.

Prof Anil Gupta and his team will be doing Shodha Yatra in Vidarbha next month. During that, they will be exhibiting the innovative mobile irrigation systems; whose originator and creator, I dare say is none other than our respected Pratibha tai. Who knows how the life of those farmers in Vidarbha will change due to these innovations.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, reinventing leadership, which is the theme of the book that the Hon’ble Vice President is releasing today has an underlying message and that is to reinvent those qualities of leadership, which make you a true leader, people’s leader. And these are, innovation, passion and compassion. Ladies & gentlemen, true leaders lead by example. Respected Pratibha tai Patil is the very embodiment of these three qualities – innovation, passion and compassion. It was a privilege and an honour to stand here before you and give a view from my personal lens of these incredible five years of our beloved first woman President of India.