| Rajini Patil in Delhi
New Delhi, June 22: The race to Raisina Hill today descended into an American-style slugfest with the National Democratic Alliance parading a woman who accused Pratibha Patil of shielding an alleged murderer — the candidate’s own brother.
College teacher Rajini Patil alleged that G.N. Patil got her husband murdered after being beaten by him to the post of district Congress president in Jalgaon, Maharashtra.
But by evening, the NDA strategy for the presidential poll was in a shambles. President A.P. J. Abdul Kalam declined to contest and the “third front” that had backed him refused to support the NDA’s “independent” candidate, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
The Opposition alliance was left trying to distance itself from the murder controversy, which broke before Kalam conveyed his decision.
The election to the largely ceremonial post had been competitive but polite till the mud-slinging at the United Progressive Alliance-Left candidate took on shades of a US President poll. Contests for the world’s most powerful office are marked by sex and financial scandals, as Bill and Hillary Clinton would vouch.
A sobbing Rajini alleged she had written to Sonia Gandhi twice in the past two years and met her in January 2006 but to no avail.
V.G. Patil, also a college teacher, was murdered in September 2005 days after defeating Pratibha’s brother in the district poll. Rajini alleged the police “deliberately” destroyed the case against G.N. Patil and aide Ulhas Patil at the behest of Rajasthan governor Pratibha.
One of the four men arrested — Congress worker Raju Mali who is now dead from AIDS — too had implicated G.N. Patil On his petition, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court ordered the case transferred to the CBI two months ago.
An Aaj Tak probe last year suggested G.N. Patil had called up one of the four accused immediately after the murder and several times in the next few hours. NDA members today gave reporters a CD of the programme.
The news conference, called by Tarlochan Singh at fellow Akali Dal MP S.S. Dhindsa’s home, was followed by Rajini’s hasty departure to Mumbai. By evening, Dhindsa was “clarifying” he didn’t know the media briefing was to be held at his home and Sushma Swaraj was saying the NDA had no role in it.
The Congress asked the Opposition to maintain “decorum”. P.R. Das Munshi said: “Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat purani (don’t talk of yesterday, such talk is dated).”