Thursday, July 19, 2007

Legal challenges to Pratiba

Legal challenges to candidature

An advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has filed a Public Interest Litigation before a bench of Supreme Court of India comprising Justice Tarun Chatterjee and Justice P K Balasubramanyan challenging her nomination for the presidential election 2007. The advocate has referred to the various allegations against Patil and her family members and sought the cancellation of her nomination papers on the ground of her being an undischarged insolvent. The petitioner raised legal and constitutional questions on whether a person declared to be an 'undischarged insolvent', for not clearing a debt to the public exchequer and others, was eligible to be elected president.

The apex court however observed that it could not act on mere allegations, and rejected the petition at the admission stage itself. The court said there was no merit in the petition as there was no document to substantiate the allegations and raised doubts about the petitioners real intention adding it was more of a "private interest litigation". The court ruled:

This petition is filed under Article 32 of the Constitution. We find no ground to interfere and exercise our jurisdiction. However, this will not prevent the petitioner from approaching appropriate authorities for redressal of his grievances.

The advocate then approached the Election Commission of India seeking her disqualification. The Election Commission, through an order, replied:

The question whether a person has become insolvent and whether he/she is still an undischarged insolvent has to be decided by the competent insolvency court under the provisions of the Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920, and not by the Commission. The Commission is not the appropriate forum. No action is called for on the part of the Commission on your representation.

Following this, the advocate again approached the court and filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before a bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran. He contended that the Election Commission had not applied it's mind to the matter, and sought quashing of the commission's order.

In another case a Delhi-based NGO has also filed a petition before the Delhi High Court alleging that Patil being Managing Trustee of Mumbai-based Shram Sadhana Bombay Trust, which is under the control of state government, was holding the office of profit making her ineligible to contest the President's election. The High Court has deferred the hearing until after election.

Controversies

Since Ms. Pratibha Patil's nomination as a presidential candidate, the media savvy BJP has been highlighting various issues with regard to her past activities and recent comments as part of their political campaign against her:

"Our media strategists are on the job. The BJP has launched a vigorous campaign against Patil, but the fact is that this is not a direct election in which people participate. Whether this media campaign will be able to win support from parties that do not want to associate themselves in any way with us is yet unclear," a senior BJP leader said.

The campaign successfully generated a lot of media attention on Ms. Pratibha Patil as a controversial and unworthy presidential candidate.

Defending itself on charges of "mud slinging" and spreading unsubstantiated rumours, the BJP emphasised that the allegations highlighted by it are not 'manufactured' or 'concoted' but derived from records available in the public domain - past and present media reports, statements of employees union, bank statements, RBI notices, payment notices from lenders, police and court enquiries etc.

The allegations have led to further petitions being filed in the courts for disqualifying her from contesting, which were either dismissed or are sill pending hearing (See the "Legal Challenges" section). While the BJP has been trying to build a strong public opinion against her, they clarified that they were not challenging her nomination on legal grounds:

The issue is actually moral, not so much legal.

Reacting to allegations UNPA leader Dr. Jayalalithaa asked the UPA to withdraw Ms.Pratibha patil and is quoted to have said:

"It is distressing to see that the highest constitutional office in the country had been subjected to mudslinging ... The nation has been embarrassed in the eyes of the world, because UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wants a President who will be pliable".

Her supporters, the UPA, say that these "facts" highlighted are a clever mixture of truth, half-truths and exaggerations. They have also pointed out that these issues have never been raised in the past while she was a deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, or during her tenure as a governor. They accused the BJP of launching a "malicious, unsubstantiated and deliberate" slanderous campaign just to damage her reputation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh defended Ms. Pratibha patil and dismissed the charges as "mud-slinging". On Monday 2 July 2007 breaking her long silence Pritibha Patil described the allegations leveled against her as "false, malicious and baseless".

Prominent allegations against her that have been controversial are:

Allegations of Shielding her Brother on a Murder Charge

On June 22, 2007, a press conference was organised at the residence of Sukhbir Singh Dhindsa, a leader of the Akali Dal which is member of the BJP led NDA coalitio.

The Hindu reported:

At the press conference, Rajni Patil alleged that Ms. Pratibha Patil's brother was in some way involved in the murder of her (Ms. Rajni Patil's) husband several years ago. The suggestion was that Ms. Pratibha Patil had used her political influence to protect her brother. Copies of her memorandum to the President on this issue were distributed to the press by Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni, an aide of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani.

She further said that she had written to Sonia Gandhi and President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam giving details about the allegation. BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad later told reporters:

These are all stark, important and disturbing facts much in existence even before she was considered as a candidate for the highest constitutional office of the country ... Therefore, consistent with the norms of dignity, transparency and constitutional propriety relating to such a high office, the BJP would like Pratibha Patil herself to satisfactorily reply to some of the most disturbing questions that have emerged from Rajni Patil's revelations

The same day, Mr. Sharad Pawar and Mr. Dasmunsi of the UPA refuted the allegations. Nagaland Post reported:

"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."

Sushma Swaraj, NDA spokesperson and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj clarified:

No one in the NDA knows who this Rajni Patil is who is reported to have made some allegation against Ms. Pratibha Patil.

On July 13, 2007 Rajani Patil moved the Bombay High Court demanding that the CBI "interrogate" Ms. Pratibha Patil and her brother in connection with her husband's murder case before the presidential poll. Rajni Patil's petition requested that the CBI, which was directed by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court to probe the case in February, must question Pratibha before July 19 (the date of voting for the presidential election) because she might get "presidential immunity" if she wins the poll.

Pratibha Women Cooperative Bank

Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank, a cooperative bank set up by Pratibha Patil in 1973 in her name, to empower women, had its license revoked in 2003 by the Reserve Bank of India for alleged financial irregularities. Among the reasons listed by the RBI for cancellation of the license was the faulty loan policy of the bank and loan interest waivers given, among others, to Pratibha Patil’s relatives. Pratibha Patil was one of the chairperson of the Bank and along with a number of her relatives, was one of its Directors. She is currently one of the 34 respondents in an ongoing case in the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on the subject of mismanagement of the bank and misappropriation of funds by its Managing Directors.

In her defence, her supporters point out that she was not the founding president of the bank and that she held the job of the chairperson for only a month and eight days. They also point out that the RBI has never mentioned Patil's name in the report, and the court has not charge-sheeted her. Communist leader A.B. Bardhan cast doubts on the credibility of the the official employees union of the bank, which has been highlighting the issue of the banks mismanagement since 2002, drawing attention to the fact that it is associated with the BMS. union led by the BJP

Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory

A cooperative sugar factory - Sant Muktabai Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana - of which Pratibha is a founder member, was declared a defaulter for failing to repay a Rs. 17.5 crore bank loan. Ms. Patil had been its chairperson and director till she became the Governor of Rajasthan. The loan was taken in 1994 when Pratibha was its chairperson but the factory has failed to repay the full amount. The bank sealed the factory on January 23, 2007 after issuing many reminders. This was the second occasion when the mill had been sealed. Earlier, it was sealed in January 2006, but was reopened after the board of directors headed by G. N. Patil - younger brother of Pratibha Patil requested for an opportunity to improve the performance of the mill.

In 2002 the chief commissioner of central excise and customs, Pune, issued notice to the factory for evading excise duty resulting from diversion of export-oriented sugar by the factory into domestic market.

Dubbing as "malign campaign" the allegations, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar defended her and noted that there was never any enquiry under Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act against her. He also pointed out that as many as 74 mills were issued notices in December 2006 and it was "unfortunate that only one particular case has been brought up in the media". Pawar said most of the mills had failed to repay the loans because of persistent drought affecting sugarcane production, leading these mills to go sick.

Polytechnic scam

According to the Economic Times the Shrama Sadhna Trust, a charitable trust in Mumbai of which Ms Patil is the managing trustee, is alleged to have siphoned funds totaling Rs 4.16 crore between 2001 and 2003 from an engineering polytechnic run by it in Jalgaon.

MPLADS scam

As Member of Parliament from Amravati between 1991 and 1996 Pratibha Patil had diverted Rs 36 lakh from her MPLADS fund to a trust run by her husband Devisingh Shekhawat. This was in violation of Government rules which barred MPs from providing funds to organisation run by their relatives.

Views on sterilisation

On 10 December 1975 when she was the Health Minister of Maharashtra Pratibha Patil advocated in Maharashtra Assembly that people with hereditary diseases should be compulsorily sterilised.

Purdah remarks

On June 17, 2007, Pratibha Patil made controversial remarks on the Purdah system, while addressing a congregation of Rajputs in Udaipur:

Women have always been respected in the Indian culture. The purdah system was introduced to protect them from the Muslim invaders. However, times have changed. India is now independent and hence, the systems should also change. Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind.

She was criticized by Islamic theologians connected with the Muslim Personal Law Board, for saying that the purdah system was introduced to protect women from Muslim cultural practices. Maulana Rashid said:

The statement is a clear reflection of Pratibha's mindset about Islam and Muslims. It is better the UPA should change its presidential candidate and opt for a more secular person for this post.

Divine indication

Patil claims to have spoken to the spirit of the deceased leader (Baba Lekhraj) of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University at their headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

"Dadiji ke shareer mein Baba aye ... Maine unse baat ki (Baba entered Devi’s body and he communicated to me through her)," she said on TV camera. Reporters began to report on the message she received of a “divine indication“ of great responsibility coming her way.

Patil claims to have received the mediumistic message during the last season in which the spirits they call "Bapdada" communicated with the faithful of the Brahma Kumaris sect. She had gone to seek the blessings of Hirday Mohini, also known as Dadi Gulzar or Dadiji.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratibha_Patil

See also: Comments on Pratiba:

http://archivenews.blogspot.com/2007/07/comments-on-pratiba.html

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