For the second time in less than a week, UPA-Left's presidential nominee Pratibha Patil on Wednesday dismissed the allegations of financial irregularities and nepotism against her as "motivated".
But she refrained from giving a point-by-point rebuttal, claiming that the charges have already been responded to. Earlier, on July 1 in Chennai, she had dubbed them as "false, baseless and malicious".
Patil issued a brief statement after the withdrawal process was over on Wednesday to reassure those with misgivings about her candidature following the BJP’s campaign. "In my over five decades of public life, I have always endeavoured to be true to my conscience… If I am elected, I shall discharge my duties and responsibilities consistent with the constitutional scheme and conventions established by my illustrious and distinguished predecessors," she said, while appealing for support. By seeking votes only in a "spirit of humility", she hinted she would not sling mud on her rival, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
"Under no circumstance should the campaign, directly or indirectly, demean the dignity of the highest office…To be a candidate to occupy the highest office of the world’s largest democracy, is a distinct honour," she said in a statement.
On his part, Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi said that the UPA, the Left, the BSP and other parties backing Patil would not target Shekhawat and would strive to restore cleanliness to the Presidential election campaign "demeaned" by the BJP and its leader LK Advani.
But Patil, he said, would not appear before the media to issue a rejoinder to ``baseless and unfounded’’ charges. "No presidential candidate has addressed a press conference during a campaign The election of a President here is not like the election of the US President or the German Chancellor,’’ he said, adding that no charges were leveled against her when she was governor, minister and Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson.
"Is there any FIR, any chargesheet or any indictment against her?," he asked. However, he left open the possibility of a media interaction with the new President.
While a section in the party wants Patil to personally debunk the charges, senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee are against it as it does not fit with the constitutional scheme of things where the President is elected indirectly.
Sources said the Congress is collecting and double checking all relevant facts before nailing the BJP’s charges, including the one on cooperative banks where, under the existing law, a person is accountable for its working only while holding a post.
"Our prime concern is to see that there are no direct charges against Patil. And our main problem is to what pitch we can take our defence on her in view of a CBI probe and a court case," said a leader, referring to charges of her brother and husband’s involvement in a murder and suicide case.
Dasmunsi charged the BJP of creating a "new history" by not supporting Patil who is slated to become the first woman President. He sidestepped the query whether her image has been dented, claiming that her election to the high office would expose the BJP and Advani.
"Actually, Advani's attack is not on Patil but Shekhawat. If he gets extra votes, he can become a contender for the Prime Minister and the BJP’s chief’s post," Dasmunsi said, adding that the anti-Patil rhetoric was coming only from Advani and the BJP and not from other NDA partners.