Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pratibha Patil: The truth behind the allegations

Arun Shourie has brought to light well researched points on the allegations against presidential candidate Pratibha Patil in two articles on the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank case and the background of the alleged murder coverup. So, what do these well researched articles have to say?

Here is some of the background on the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank. She was chairperson of the bank since its inception in 1973 till it was closed down by the RBI in 2003. Shourie claims in his article that she virtually ran the place. Arun Shourie told CNBC-TV18, " She established it, it's on her biodata as governor of Rajasthan. It's a close connection and she is proud fo the fact. Secondly, even in 2002 documents, she's referred to as the founder chairperson. Third, there is a resolution dated January 22, 2002 of the bank's board of directors, that she will appoint all the officers of the bank, and who will do what."

"The more important point is that when the bank was being liquidated, there is a communcation from the manager of the bank to the then chairperson in 2003, that these negotiations with the employees were taken in the presence of Pratibha Patil."

And despite being around at the bank for 30 years, she claims not to know how many of her relatives, nephews and nieces took loans from the bank.This bank was placed on the list of weak banks by the RBI in 1997 and because Patil didn't take any steps to rectify the situation, the bank had to be shut down to protect the depositors, who were small-time depositors anyway, like flower-sellers, ragpickers etc.

Shourie adds, "There is a case going on in the Bombay High Court about this bank and Pratibha Patil is respondent No. 8 today." What's more, an internal audit of the bank also revealed the fact that she had mismanaged the bank, and she simply can't wriggle out of the situation today, saying she had no clue about it.

Then there are charges of nepotism that can't be easily shrugged off either. She extended loans to her brothers and other relatives totalling Rs 2.25 crore was declared non-performing assets, NPAs. A further Rs 41 lakhs that works out as interest on this amount was waived off. So, while the bank's depositors were the poor and the marginalised women of society, the chairperson seems to have turned a blind eye to the fact that her relatives were misusing the bank's funds.

Even the bank's union - the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Karamchari Sangh formally wrote letters and memos, claiming that Pratibha's brother, Dilip Singh Patil, installed a bank phone in his home and conducted stock market business on it, and ran up a bill of Rs 20 lakhs. The bank also entended unsecured loans to her sugar cooperative and she go her relatives jobs in the bank, when it should have gone to qualified people from the scheduled castes.

Shourie explains, "It's not just the union but also the chief administrator appointed for the liquidation of the bank, who also asked all these questions." And what's more when the situation got to hot for Pratibha Patil to handle, she may have threatened the union, which they also insinuated as much in a letter. Shourie goes on to say that, it could go further than just mere threats.

If she did indeed resort to threats, then was she hiding more than just the mismanagement of her bank. Could she be hiding her brother's involvement in a murder conspiracy as well? Shourie believes, it could be so. He says, "The working president of the Congress in Jalgaon, Rajiv Patil said in September 2005, that GN Patil was responsible for the murder (of district Congress committe President, VG Patil). This story was a eight column heading in the local papers back then."

On Sept 28, 2005, eight days after the murder of VG Patil, Rajiv Patil wrote to the Minister of State for Home at the Centre, Manikrao Gavit telling him about the allegation that Pratibha Patil's brother, GN Patil was somehow involved in the murder conspiracy. Gavit got in touch with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and asked him to investigate the matter. Eventually, even the two people caught for the murder corroborated this by stating in a letter, that these people has instigated them.

Rajni Patil, the widow of the murdered man, VG Patil, stated in a clear letter written on March 5, 2007, that boldly says that her husband was killed because he started inquiries into the funds collected for the Kargil and tsunami victims, which had disappeared, "under GN Patil's presidentship of the district Congress committee."

Patil was asked to stop those inquiries but he persisted. Rajni Patil goes on to say.."The supari (contract) to murder my husband, VG Patil was given by Dr Ulhas Patil and Dr GN Patil." So much so, after writing this letter to Sonia Gandhi, the widow even met her. Also, four delegations from Jalgaon went to meet the Congress leaders. So, it was entirely unlikely that the Congress hierarchy was unaware of the allegations made against Pratibha Patil and her involvement in trying to protect her brother.

Then there is also the fact that after all this, even the CBI stepped in to investigate and it even took them 20 months to put the spotlight on GN Patil, because may be there was political pressure put on them as well.

Shourie says that, the fact that there was pressure put on the CBI can be inferred. He also says, if people - including the Prime Minister - wants all the information mentioned in his articles, he's more than willing to give them the 700-odd pages that he had to sift through. But he knows the Prime Minister won't ask for them.
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