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More muck and 8 posers for Pratibha
- Slugfest gets shriller as BJP sets out to strip woman candidate of ‘moral halo’

New Delhi, June 23: Nothing personal yesterday. Back to mud-slinging today.

An aggressive BJP today launched a fresh offensive against Pratibha Patil, less than 24 hours after party leader Sushma Swaraj said there would be no personal attacks on the UPA-Left candidate.

A senior leader said the idea was to “remove the moral halo around her persona as India’s first prospective woman President”.

The attack, he added, was expected to get “shriller and sharper” and expand on specific aspects of the broad charges against Pratibha, accused of defaulting on a massive bank loan repayment and shielding her brother, an alleged murderer.

The change in tack came after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and other senior leaders met last night to decide that even if the alliance fought the election to lose, it should be a pyrrhic “victory” for the Congress-led UPA.

As Pratibha, in a yellow-and-red silk sari, filed her nomination this morning, the political advantage the ruling combine had sought to extract from the gender card lay buried in a growing heap of charges and counter-charges.

A news conference addressed later by Union ministers Sharad Pawar and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi focused almost entirely on answering the BJP-NDA allegations.

The BJP listed eight questions for Pratibha. Some of them were:

Did Pratibha, who is from Jalgaon, ever commiserate with Rajini Patil, the widow of local Congress leader V.G. Patil who was allegedly killed by G.N. Patil, Pratibha’s brother, and collaborator Ulhas Patil'

Why were the alleged conspirators not interrogated 21 months after the murder'

Who were the “influential” political leaders the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court mentioned in its order, which said the case should be probed by the CBI'

Did Pratibha set the record straight with Sonia Gandhi whom Rajini had met'

Was Pratibha fit to occupy the high office despite being a life-member of a sugar cooperative that had totted up unpaid bank loans of Rs 17 crore'

Pawar refused to speak on the murder case, but defended Pratibha on the loan default matter. He said she had ceased to be a director of the cooperative board and its chairperson after she was appointed Rajasthan governor in 2004.

Asked who was behind the smear campaign, Pawar said: “It looks like the NDA.”

Shekhawat papers

NDA-backed “independent” candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat will file his nomination papers on June 25.

“June 25 is a significant date in the politics of India. It was on this day in 1975 that the Emergency was imposed. In reaction the non-Congress parties had got together and removed the Congress for the first time from the Centre,” Sushma said.

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