The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday asked the ruling alliance's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil to give a "satisfactory" explanation to the charges against her of shielding her brother who faces murder allegations as well as her involvement in a loan default case.
"A serious moral question arises whether a person involved with an institution (a co-operative sugar factory that defaulted in loan payments), which has indulged in such irregularities, is fit to become the President of India. After all, it is a question of public money," BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters in New Delhi.
According to media reports, Sant Muktai Sugar Co-operative in Jalgaon in Maharashtra - of which the former Rajasthan governor is the founder president - had defaulted on a Rs 175 million loan given by a Mumbai cooperative bank in 1994.
"How can we have different standards for an ordinary loan taker and a candidate for the high office of the President of India?" the BJP leader asked.
The main opposition party, which was criticised by the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leaders for leading a "malign campaign" against Patil, also sought an explanation from the candidate.
The murder allegation against her brother was slapped by one Rajni Patil, who was paraded by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday. She alleged that her husband was murdered by Pratibha Patil's brother and that she had been "shielding" him.
"These are all stark, important and disturbing facts much in existence even before she was considered as a candidate for the highest constitutional office of the country," Prasad said in a statement.
"Therefore, consistent with the norms of dignity, transparency and constitutional propriety relating to such a high office, the BJP would like Pratibha Patil herself to satisfactorily reply to some of the most disturbing questions that have emerged from Rajni Patil's revelations," he said.
The BJP leader also pointed out that Rajni Patil had demanded action against Pratibha Patil's brother GN Patil in a letter to the police chief in Jalagaon.
Rajani's husband VG Patil was murdered in September 2005 in Jalagaon.
In his statement, Prasad said that Pratibha Patil's brother was kept out of the case due to her political influence.
"It is important that Pratibha Patil must herself respond to these disturbing questions because these facts are related to her and the resultant questions are also related to her. The Congress spokespersons cannot speak on her behalf and dismiss Rajani Patil's revelations as a 'smear campaign' by the opponents of the UPA," the statement insisted.
It also said the Congress leadership had been aware of all the allegations against their candidate. "Is it because, apart from loyalty to the Gandhi Family, she was also vulnerable, so that she would sign on the dotted line?" Prasad asked.
Pratibha Patil, who filed her nominations on Saturday, is expected to have a straight fight with Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is backed by the NDA in the July 19 election.
Meanwhile, Suhkhdev Singh Dhindsa, a leader of the BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal, dissociated himself from Rajni Patil's press meet, which was held at his residence, and denied any knowledge about the incident.