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Cong pits bank scams against Godhra

Ahmedabad, Nov. 28: If money really talks, the Congress has found a cash-card to play in the Gujarat campaign.

The party today released its election manifesto where the cooperative bank scam occupies substantial space. By comparison, the reference to Godhra and the riots after that are almost lost in a footnote.

Vowing to bring “peace, prosperity, happiness and security” if voted to power in the December 12 polls, the party commits itself to a “time-bound inquiry” into the scam involving hundreds of crores and affecting around 17 lakh people, and the riots.

“Every scam that was unearthed in the state is connected to the BJP,” said Kamal Nath, Congress national general secretary in charge of Gujarat, who released the manifesto.

State unit president Shankersinh Vaghela said that anyone found guilty of swindling the banks will not be spared. Till now, the Congress has maintained a studied silence on the scam.

In March 2001, Gujarat had 353 cooperative banks, of which only 200 are active now. Total deposits at the time had stood at around Rs 17,500 crore, but in the one-and-a-half years’ of scams, the amount has eroded by at least Rs 5,000 crore.

Over 40 are on the brink of bankruptcy while eight have shut shop. In a state where nearly 70 per cent of banking transactions take place through cooperative banks, more than 30 of them are failing to honour cheques for amounts as small as Rs 500.

The party’s first categorical assurance on punishing those involved means bad news for caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi. BJP links can be traced to many of these scams.

For instance, C.R. Patil — who was convener of Modi’s Gaurav Yatra in Surat and heads the state-owned Gujarat Alkalis and Chemicals — is accused of swindling over Rs 48 crore from the Diamond Jubilee Co-operative Bank which has since shut down. Patil is absconding, so are some others.

Charotar Cooperative Bank of Anand, also sucked into a scam, has as its chairman Chimanbhai Sathi, whose son Deepak is a BJP member of Parlliament. Karasad Cooperative Bank, which collapsed, was headed by a former BJP minister, Dilip Patel.

Kamal Nath and Salman Khurshid, representing the national leadership, gave valuable inputs for preparing the manifesto, but Vaghela himself had taken keen interest in finetuning the draft with the help of his trusted colleague, Madhusudan Mistry.

The Congress said it would prepare a white paper on the Godhra carnage, the original flashpoint of the riots, and the role played by the BJP government. The party said it would establish the rule of law and initiate police reforms.

To stop misuse of the law enforcing machinery, the Congress would establish a state human rights commission. It also intends to revive its 20-point programme to woo Dalits, tribals, OBCs, women and minorities. To win over farmers, the party has made three promises — a permanent solution to the drinking water problem in areas of Saurashtra and north Gujarat by speedy completion of the Sardar Sarovar Project, 12-hour uninterrupted power supply to industry and 24-hour electricity in villages. To garner support of unemployed youths, the party has promised to generate five lakh jobs.

The party said it would bring the state’s economy back on track by creating a business-friendly environment with a single window clearance system to encourage non-resident Indians and Gujaratis to invest. Among its 220 election promises is a disaster mitigation force to tackle any emergency — both manmade and natural.

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