Dubbing as "malign campaign" the allegations against UPA-Left Presidential candidate Pratibha Patil, two senior union ministers on Saturday said the attack reflected the "frustration and desperation" of those indulging in it.
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar defended Patil against allegations that a factory she had headed was a loan defaulter saying "never there was an enquiry under Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act against her as person or as a Director of the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd, Jalgaon".
Refuting opposition charges that the sugar mill run by the bank had defaulted on payment of the loan, Pawar said as many as 74 mills were issued notices in December 2006 and it was "unfortunate that only one particular case has been brought up in the media".
"The malign campaign by an ex-PMO official close to the former Prime Minister is most unfortunate. It reflects frustration and desperation and is a sign of their losing the election," Information and Broadcasting Minister PR Dasmunsi told reporters.
The press conference was held shortly after Patil filed her nomination in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Pawar said most of the mills had failed to repay the loans because of persistent drought affecting sugarcane production, leading these mills to go sick.
"Patil was the founder member and Chairperson of the mill till she became Rajasthan Governor three years ago. Now she is no longer associated with the mill".
The repayment of loan has to be done by the mill and not her as an individual, Pawar explained. "In 45 years of my public life, as a voter or being associated with elections, I have never seen this kind of mud-slinging."
Asked who was behind this campaign, he said "who is Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni. It looks like the NDA. I am not referring to any individual".
Referring to the reported murder case in Jalgaon, Pawar asserted that the UPA nominee was in no way connected with the case. He said the enquiry had been completed and a chargesheet filed.
"Her brother's name is nowhere in the FIR or the first chargesheet. The High Court has directed a CBI investigation, which has started. Therefore, we do not want to react", he said.
The NCP leader said he knew Pratibha Patil for long and had worked with her. "Her reputation has been one of the cleanest persons in public life."
Pawar said he had met Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who, he said, was "shocked" as to how his colleague's house was used for this "dirty campaign". The NCP leader quoted Baal as saying that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal had no role in the matter.
In a similar vein, Dasmunsi also said that till the probe was completed by CBI, no aspersion should be cast.
He made it clear that the UPA candidate was not involved in the matter and only her relative was facing a probe.
To questions on President APJ Abdul Kalam feeling "wounded" over certain remarks by UPA Ministers, Dasmunsi said there was no intention to hurt him.
"What I had said was that when someone has announced that he is not in the race and that he will go to Chennai and resume teaching, suddenly he announces after meeting a group of leaders that he is interested if there is certainty of winning".
The I&B Minister said it was "unfortunate" that Kalam's name was being dragged into such a controversy.
"President is the President till he is in office. My comment was not on the office of the President. We continue to adore the office of the President and Kalam is most respected".