Exercise `due diligence' this time atleast
Posted on: 28 Apr 2012
T V R Shenoy
Nostalgia is not really about the past, it is an admission that the present is truly quite bad.
Is that why so many people are nostalgic about the A. P. J. Abdul Kalam years in Rashtrapati Bhavan?
I was transferred from Mumbai to Delhi in 1965, and vividly remember every presidential election from 1967 on. 2012 is the first time nobody is talking about a second term for the current incumbent. (Even Gyani Zail Singh had his boosters in 1987, largely, one suspects, to needle Rajiv Gandhi.)
That lack of support is an unstated indictment of our current First Citizen. Some — even in the Congress itself — are wondering not whether she should get a second term but why and how she was selected in the first place.
In 2007 U.P.A.-1 rested on support from the Left Front. This meant chiefly the C.P.I.(M) but from time to time the C.P.I. too would make its presence felt, and one such occasion occurred when the deadline for choosing a presidential nominee was looming.
To break a deadlock, D. Raja of the C.P.I. asked, 'Why not a woman?' The C.P.I. General-Secretary A. B. Bardhan, who hails from Maharashtra, suggested Pratibha Patil, then Governor of Rajasthan.
Did any of the conferees know anything else about Pratibha Patil at the time?
Probably only the fact that she had withheld assent from a Bill moved by the then B.J.P. government in Jaipur, one barring religious conversion through 'force, allurement, or fraudulent means'. And the fact that she had married a man surnamed 'Shekhawat', something that would confuse some people if the B.J.P. backed Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. And that propping up a Maharashtrian would drive a wedge between the B.J.P. and the Shiv Sena (reflexively committed to backing anyone from its state).
Those seemed good enough reasons to back a Pratibha Patil candidacy. And so, without further ado, the U.P.A. and the Left Front made a fine show of doing their bit for women.
On 3 March, 2011 the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of P. J. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Their Lordships did so to uphold the 'institutional integrity' of the office, which they decreed should be the touchstone when considering such appointments along, of course, with the candidate's personal integrity.
Did anyone in the Left Front or the Congress consider the institutional integrity of the presidency in 2007? Was there, to borrow from management jargon, any 'due diligence'? There was certainly no dearth of controversies around the candidate and her clan.
In 2005 Pratibha Patil's brother, G. N. Patil, lost the poll held to elect a president for the Jalgaon District Congress Committee, to Vishram Patil. On 21 September 2005 V. G. Patil was murdered.
Two men, Raju Mali and Raju Sonawane, were arrested. Professor Patil's widow, Rajani Patil, alleged that her husband's rival, G. N. Patil, was part of the conspiracy that led to the murder. In February 2007 the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court ordered the C.B.I. to take over the case, in part because of 'the alleged complicity of the influential political leaders'. In April 2007 Raju Mali, who was then in police custody, suddenly died. And in June 2007 the C.B.I. was allowed to file a supplementary charge-sheet against G. N. Patil.
Ordinarily, you cannot hold a sister responsible for an alleged crime committed by her brother. But the fact remains that Rajani Patil had alleged that Pratibha Patil was shielding her sibling.
Devisingh Shekhawat, Pratibha Patil's husband, may not be accused of murder but is he guilty of abetment to suicide? Morally, if not legally?
Kisan Dhage was an assistant teacher at a school run by the Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, associated with Devisingh Shekhawat. The poor man fell into the management's bad books, and his salary was stopped. Dhage appealed to the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, which ordered the school management to pay him his dues. This was not done, and on 15 November, 1998 Dhage — unable to feed his family — swallowed poison.
Dhage left behind a suicide note, reportedly saying that he was killing himself because of continuous harassment. His widow, Mangala Dhage, approached the courts for relief. In 2007, when Pratibha Patil suddenly became the presidential candidate of the U.P.A. and the Left Front, Devisingh Shekhawat was still facing a criminal charge. (He has since been cleared but the Congress and the Left Front could not have known that in 2007.)
It is also true that in 2003 the Reserve Bank of India had cancelled the licence given to the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd, Jalgaon, for 'erosion' of funds. Pratibha Patil was the founder-chairperson of the bank, and Rs. 2.24 crore of the bank's unrecovered loans went to her relatives.
This was not the only time that something like this had happened. The Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory, also associated with Pratibha Patil's family, had to be shut after running a loan default of Rs. 20 crore.
If the standards applied by the Supreme Court in quashing P. J. Thomas's appointment had been applied in 2007 would Pratibha Patil ever have made it to Rashtrapati Bhavan?
The embarrassments continued even after the Patil-Shekhawats moved into that imperial pile atop Raisina Hill. Visiting Mexico along with his mother in 2008, the President's son, Rajendra Singh Shekhawat, disappeared for a day. The absence was noted because the chair reserved for him was unoccupied at an official banquet hosted by President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. It turned out that he had flown off to Miami, in the United States, to conduct some business. He apparently forgot to inform his Mexican hosts, a serious breach of protocol; did he also forget to take the allowance from the Indian Embassy?
Rajendra Singh Shekhawat was in the news most recently during the local body elections in Maharashtra, in February. One crore rupees in currency was seized, and the two men who were arrested reportedly said that it was meant for the Congress campaign in Amravati. Rajendra Singh Shekhawat is the local Congress M.L.A., and his name popped up. The Election Commission ordered the District Collector and Municipal Commissioner to look into the matter. Rajendra Singh Shekhawat's ingenious explanation is that the funds were meant to be distributed between eighty-seven party candidates, each getting a lakh, with the remainder going directly to the Congress treasury.
Finally, it turns out that Pratibha Patil has taken 261,000 square feet of land in Pune's Khadki Cantonment. Meant for military use, it will now serve as a retirement bungalow — built, of course, at the taxpayers' expense. This was brought out by a R.T.I. application filed by Colonel Suresh Patil (Retd.), and his response says it all — 'Dr. Rajendra Prasad donated his own land to Acharya Vinoba Bhave, and here we have Pratibha Patil taking land away from her own soldiers.'
I have no idea whether Professor A. P. J. Abdul Kalam would consider a second term but, after all this, is there anyone who is not feeling nostalgic?
At the very least, may we hope that the Congress and the Left Front will exercise some 'due diligence' in 2012, exhibit some respect for the 'institutional integrity' of the presidency?