UPA defends Patil against allegations, criticises NDA


New Delhi : The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Saturday came out in defence of its presidential candidate Pratibha Patil against allegations of shielding her brother in a murder case and involvement in a financial fraud.

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"Pratibha-tai is one of the cleanest politicians in the country. I have known her since 1967," Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told reporters in a specially convened press conference after she filed her nomination papers Saturday morning.

Pawar and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi termed the allegations against the presidential candidate as a "malign campaign" and said it was a "reflection of the frustration, desperation and a definite loss of understanding of the situation of those who indulged in it".

According to media reports, a co-operative sugar factory in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, of which the former Rajasthan governor is the founder president, had defaulted on a Rs.175 million loan given by a Mumbai cooperative bank 1994.

Pawar, who according to UPA sources voluntarily took the initiative in refuting the charges against Patil, said: "Pratibha-tai is one of the founder members and was the chairperson of that mill. But she stepped down from the post when she became governor three years ago. She is not associated with the mill now.

"As many as 74 sugar mills were issued loan default notices in December 2006 by banks. These sugar mills were absolutely dependant on the sugar prices, which were fluctuating. Besides, there was severe drought in the area, which affected the production.

"It is unfortunate that only one particular case has been brought up in the media," he said.

Pawar and Dasmunsi also condemned the allegation that Patil had been "shielding" her brother, a murder accused.

A woman, Rajni Patil, had in a press conference Friday at Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa's residence here alleged that her husband had been murdered by Patil's brother.

"It is a matter that the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) is probing. Anyway, her brother's name was not in the FIR (first information report) nor in the charge sheet," said Pawar, former Maharashtra chief minister.

Both ministers blamed the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the Akali Dal is a constituent, for the slur campaign against the presidential candidate.

"I met Dhindsa in the morning and he said he did not have any idea about the press conference. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was shocked to see how his colleague's house was being used for dirty politics," Pawar remarked.

Referring to reports that Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former Prime Minister's Office (PMO) official, had brought the woman to the national capital, Pawar said: "It looks like NDA was behind it."

Dasmunsi added: "The malign campaign by an ex-PMO official close to the former prime minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) is most unfortunate. It reflects their frustration and desperation and is a sign of their losing the election."

He said he would seek a probe into how Dhindsa's house was used for the press conference without his knowledge.

"I have been a voter for the presidential elections for the last 45 years. I have never seen such mudslinging," Pawar said.

Both took strong exception to AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha's allegation that the UPA leaders and the two ministers had used "boorish and churlish" remarks against President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he expressed his willingness to contest the presidential election if there was a "certainty".

"Our comments were restricted to the process of election, not to the individual. The office of the president is different from the candidate," Dasmunsi said.

"President Kalam is a dignified person. Who has dragged his name into controversy?" he asked, adding that Kalam's suggestion that he would contest if there was a certainty came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other UPA leaders signed the nomination papers for Patil.

Pawar, Dasmunsi and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad had asked Kalam to "quit gracefully" and not to allow himself to be dragged into "politics" by the NDA and the Third Front grouping.