(the financial frauds, the murder, the deliberate derailment of the investigation)
And don't forget: there is the husband too
- Arun Shourie
The trouble with women's empowerment is that, carried away, people forget that there is the husband too!
Till yesterday, the bio-data of Pratibha Patil acclaimed her as the Founder-Chairperson of the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank. Suddenly, we are told she has had no connection with it since 1994! Till yesterday her bio-data stated that she is 'The Chief Promoter and Chairperson of a Sugar Factory in Jalagaon District.' Suddenly, we are to believe that she has had no connection with this factory either certainly not since it closed its doors having swallowed Rs. 20 crore in unpaid loans.
That leaves her strenuous endeavours for education. We have already had a glimpse of the Engineering College . But there are also the schools.The staff is bitter. To illustrate their plight, they bring documents that nail how a teacher was treated; how he was driven to suicide; and how the husband of Pratibha Patil, Devisingh Shekhawat and his associates have been keeping justice at bay.
The painful sequence
Committed as they are to education, 'especially of women', as her bio-data continually reminds us, Pratibha Patil and Family have set up a society which runs some schools. Devisingh Shekhawat is the President of the society. He is also the Accused No. 1 in the case that I am about to summarise.
Kisan Dhage joined the school run by the Shekhawats in 1977. He worked as an Assistant Teacher. After prolonged privation and harassment, on 15 November 1998, he took his life by swallowing poison.
The police were called. As they examined the body in the presence of witnesses, they discovered in his pocket a suicide note that Dhage had written in his own hand. They also found a stamp-paper Dhage had written out on it also the painful account of events that were leading him to take his own life.
He set out how he had been harassed and mentally tortured for long by Devisingh and his associates. His salary was not paid. His pleas for credit from the credit society that is run by the education society that runs the schools were turned down. The forms to enable his son to take the examination for scholarship were blocked
The family was driven to starvation
Eventually, they dubbed him 'surplus', and transferred him to a far-off school. It turned out that there was no vacancy for a teacher's position in this school. Dhage was shoved around and told to supervise the hostel, such as it was. In despair, Dhage wrote to the Social Welfare Department in Amravati . On 27 January, 1998, the Social Welfare Officer at Amravati , wrote to the school management saying that the transfer was illegal as there was no vacancy for the position of a teacher in the school to which the hapless man had been driven. The Officer, therefore, withheld sanction for the transfer.
To beat him into submission, Devisingh and associates completely stopped paying the salary of Dhage. He received nothing from September 1997. Being a family of little means, they were at their tether's end. Dhage appealed to the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court for relief there is no vacancy for a teacher in this school, they have sent me here, they have stopped paying any remuneration, we are at the point of starvation
Such were his pathetic pleas.
The application was filed on 19 January, 1998. But the wheels of justice move at deliberate speed. The order of the High Court did not come till 8 October 1998. By now a year had passed since the family had received any pay at all.
The High Court ordered Devisingh and associates to take Dhage back as teacher and to pay his salary. It also directed them to pay arrears since 25 August 1997.
Dhage kept going to the management. He waited upon these high and mightily-connected personages. His health broke down. He applied for medical leave he attached a medical certificate with his application. His request even for medical leave was rejected peremptorily.
Nothing moved them. In spite of the High Court's direction, Devisingh and Co. refused to pay him anything. Dhage's colleagues were aghast. But helpless.
The family had to turn to moneylenders. They had to sell the wife's few ornaments. But now there was little left even to sell
Unable to secure food for his wife and children, crushed by the insolence of these heartless people, around 10 in the morning on 15 November, 1998, Dhage swallowed poison and killed himself.
The police recorded the panchnama. It took the suicide note, the stamp paper and all. The body was taken away. The viscera were removed for examination.
And then, full stop.
Dhage's widow, Mangalbai, filed a complaint. Police looked the other way.
Mangalbai then approached the local court. For two painful years she kept being knocked from pillar to post.
Eventually, the Court ruled. It set out the entire sequence: the harassment; the illegal transfer; the stoppage of salary to beat the man into submission; the order of the High Court that the salary as well as the arrears be paid
In spite of the High Court order 'not even a single penny' has been paid, the Court noted. After examining witnesses including the police official who had examined the body, recovered the suicide note, overseen the extraction of the viscera; after studying the suicide note; after noting the wanton disregard for the order of the High Court; after seeing the wretchedness to which the family had been reduced; in a word, after going through the matter in minute detail, the Court declared that a prima facie case had indeed been made out. '
Thereafter the matter was reported to the police by the complainant [Mangalbai Dhage],' the Court observed, '
however, under the political pressure police did not register offence against the accused
Complainant has proved her prima facie case
' The Court directed that process be issued to Devisingh and his four associates, and proceedings be commenced against them under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code: the section that deals with 'abetment to suicide', the word 'abetment' covers pushing someone to take his own life.
That was on 6 October, 2000 by now three years had gone since the poor man's salary had been stopped, two years since he had killed himself.
A family as devoted to education, and women's welfare, and rural development and everything good and gracious as Pratibha Patil's bio-data makes her out to be, would have immediately agreed to day-to-day hearings to say nothing of not having such privation befall a hapless teacher and his family in the first place.
What did our friend do? He filed an appeal against the order of the Court with the Additional Sessions Judge.
Five years went by. Eventually the Judicial Magistrate, A.A. Nandagaonkar, delivered the judgement. It was a resounding slap on Devisingh the plea of the poor widow was upheld in entirety. The complainant, Mangalbai, has proved the prima facie case against the accused Devisingh and associates. 'Therefore, I am of the opinion that issuance of process against the accused is necessary. Hence, as such enquiry made by me upon going through the facts and circumstances of the matter and evidence adduced by the complainant is sufficient enough to proceed against the accused for commission of offence u/s 306 r[ead]/w[ith] 34 of the IPC.'
That was on 22 July, 2005 seven years had gone by since Dhage had been compelled to take his life.
At least now, you would think, our friend would let justice proceed. But you reckon without our would-be First Man of the Republic. He filed an appeal in the High Court!
On 26 December, 2005, the High Court passed an order directing the local Court to examine the grounds that Devisingh and associates had now given against the order and dispose of the revision application within three months.
Lawyers were fielded. They fielded lawyerly arguments the complainant had listed 16 witnesses, but she had examined only 7; the lower Court erred in concluding that a prima facie case had been made out
As is their custom, lawyers cited a series of judgements.
In a third stinging slap, the reviewing judge concluded that Devisingh and Co. had no ground for their appeal at all. He showed that the elaborate judgements that Devisingh's lawyers had cited, that each and every one of them in fact fortified what the original Court had done. The evidence that had been adduced, the sequence of events that had been brought on record, the Judge ruled, 'are sufficient enough to inspire [sic.] that these accused had abetted Mr. Kisan Dhage to commit suicide by creating unbearable situation for his survival and also making him unable to maintain his family members.' 'The series of facts alleged in the complaint also inspire [sic.] that all these accused are in collusion with each other and therefore as far as the question of prima facie case is concerned, there are sufficient grounds brought on record before the learned lower court
This order came on 7 February, 2007 that poor Assistant Teacher had been driven to his death in November 1998
The trial is yet to commence.
Wouldn't you say that Devisingh Shekhawat, husband of Pratibha Patil, the prospective First Man of the Republic of India , has already succeeded? The pathetic teacher gone? The widow worn to exhaustio n. And he about to enter the portals of Rashtrapati Bhavan
Here is how to empower women
- Arun Shourie
'A big step for women
This shows India has a lot of respect for women
My nomination will inspire other women and help their empowerment
' that is how Pratibha Patil described her selection as the UPA candidate for being our President. Loyalists, of course, went one better. 'A firm believer in women's causes and a tireless champion of spreading education among girls
One who always stands for a better deal for women
active role in checking such evils as female foeticide and dowry...' 'Working women of Mumbai hail
' 'Yes, Ma'am Commander' Armymen look forward to reporting to first woman Supreme Commander of Armed Forces
And all this within two days of her selection.
Her bio-data lists her 'special interests' as 'development of rural economy and welfare of women', and lists as evidence, 'Establishment of Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank at Jalgaon, Maharashtra
of Mahila Vikas Mahamandal
' It records her being Managing Trustee, Shram Sadhana Trust, as her being the 'Chief Promoter and Chairperson of Sugar Factory in Jalgaon District'. It records her having set up the Engineering College 'for the benefit of rural youth'
We start with the 'cooperative bank' she set up in her own name to help other women the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank.
Although this is listed in her bio-data, and although it has been referred to again and again by newspapers, how is it that neither the bio-data nor the newspapers mention that the bank has actually been liquidated? Under orders of the Reserve Bank of India, no less. And that too on the telling ground that its continuance would be prejudicial to the interests of depositors.
Pratibha Patil established the bank in 1973 with herself as the chairperson, and with many members of her own family as its directors. She herself became a director for several terms. As for members of her family, they inter-changed, among themselves, the chairs of the Board of Directors in one 'election' after another. But while others changed places, Pratibha Patil continued as Founder Chairperson right till the demise of the bank.
Since the bank was not being managed properly, the Reserve Bank of India, in 1995, included it in its list of 'weak banks' and placed it under rehabilitation 'due to heavy erosion in its assets as observed in the inspection in March 1994.'
The RBI conducted an in-depth inspection of the bank's functioning again in 2002. In his order dated 25 February 2003, P.B . Mathur, Executive Director of the RBI, stated that the inspection revealed the following irregularities:
1: The real or exchangeable value of the bank's paid-up share capital and reserves stands at minus Rs. 197.67 lakh. Thus, the bank is not having adequate assets to meet its liabilities. The bank does not comply with the RBI's requirement of minimum share capital
2: The ratio of the net erosion to net owned funds of the bank is as high as 312.4% and the erosion in the value of the bank's assets has not only wiped out its owned funds but has also affected the deposits to the extent of Rs. 197.67 lakh, forming 26% of total deposits
3: The gross NPAs of the bank, that is loans that have gone bad, amount to 65.8% of the total loans and advances
4: The Board has not made any concerted effort to improve the bank's financial position and bring it out of the weak status
As a consequence, the RBI in its order stated: 'Having regard to all the facts, the Reserve Bank of India is satisfied that allowing the bank to carry on banking business any further would be detrimental to the interest of the present and future depositors and hence the license granted to the PRATIBHA MAHILA SAHAKARI BANK LTD. is hereby cancelled.'
Who got the loans?
But how did the assets of the bank get eroded? Why did this 'cooperative bank' functioning as it must have been in the interests of its members not take any action to retrieve the loans and instead endanger its very existence? Remember that the order of the RBI to liquidate the bank was not a sudden bolt. The RBI had put the bank on its list of 'weak banks' in 1995, that is a full eight years before the RBI had to decide that it just must be liquidated, and cancelled its license. Throughout these eight years why did Board not make any "concerted effort to improve the bank's financial position"?
A brief list of the sorts of persons who had been given the 'loans' and were not repaying them, tells the tale.
Name of the NPA holder
Relationship to P. Patil
Amount due with penalty
|Rajeshwari Kishorisingh Patil
||Rs. 45, 82, 670
|Kishor Dilipsingh Patil
||Rs. 51, 02, 183
|Kishor Dilipsingh Patil
||Rs. 43, 87, 680
|Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
|Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
Jayashri Udhavsingh Rajput
|Brother's kin and wife
||Rs. 42, 89, 602
|Randhirsingh Dilipsingh Rajput
Udhavsingh Dagdu Rajput
||Rs. 21, 44, 800
|Jyoti Vijaysingh Patil
Kishor Dilipsingh Patil
||Rs. 10, 69, 893
|Dilispsingh N. Patil
||Rs. 3, 09, 562
|Dilispsingh N. Patil
||Rs. 5, 62, 840
||Rs. 2, 24, 49, 150
Notice that among the women that were being empowered by this cooperative for women this Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank were the brother and nephews of Pratibha Patil! Males behind the Muslim veil, Dr. Watson!
For my friends, the champions of employees' unions
The Cooperative Bank Employees Union wrote one memorandum after another exposing how the directors of the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank were systematically bankrupting the bank. They demanded dismissal of the family-controlled board. They demanded 'a CBI inquiry against Pratibha Patil, former Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, for the irregularities in the bank'. They wrote these letters, in Marathi, to the relevant authorities in Maharashtra looking after the affairs of cooperative banks. They sent them to the then President, to the then Prime Minister, to among others, 'Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition (Lok Sabha)
In one such lengthy memorandum dated 3.12.2001, the Employees' Union complained, 'Founder Chairperson Pratibha Patil during, before and after the period when she was formally on the Board of Directors has facilitated the loot of large sums of money in the form of unlawful loans without surety extended to her own relatives and to people close to her family.' The Union alleged that, even though the bank was on the verge of bankruptcy, Pratibha Patil got huge amounts of interest waived on the loans given to her close relatives. As illustrations, they listed three such accounts:
1) Anjali Dilipsingh Patil (Pratibha Patil's niece), who got a waiver of Rs. 21.86 lakh;
2) Kavita Aravind Patil (sister-in-law of Pratibha Patil), who got a waiver of Rs. 8.59 lakh; and
3) Rajkaur Dilipsingh Patil (another sister-in-law of Pratibha Patil), who got a waiver of Rs. 2.47 lakh.
The waivers given, the accounts were promptly closed!
This, the Union stated, 'is a loot of Rs. 32.93 lakh'. You will not be surprised to learn that, within the bank, the complaint got nowhere. And for good reason: the legal advisor to the bank was Pratibha Patil's elder brother, Dilipsingh Patil, and Dilipsingh Patil's own wife was one of the beneficiaries of the loan waiver!
'The purpose of the cooperative movement,' the Union's letter stated, 'is to promote people's economic, social and educational development and thereby strengthen patriotism in them. But (in this bank), Pratibha Patil, her elder brother Dilipsingh Patil and the Board of Directors have, through different means, robbed nearly Rs. 2 crore
The bank is thus being bankrupted through a collusive strategy.' 'What kind of morality is this?,' the Union asked.
In a writ filed in the Bombay High Court Pratibha Patil is one of the respondents in the case -- the employees of the bank also said something else that will be of particular interest to our champions of social justice. They said, 'The respondent Directors have also appointed staff without following the recruitment procedure that the posts are reserved for reserve categories such as S.C., S.T., O.B.C. The managing Directors have appointed their relatives as employees of the Bank
To rescue the bank from imminent demise, the Union demanded 'seizure of the property of Smt. Pratibha Patil, her brother Dilipsingh Patil and her relatives'. In addition it demanded an inquiry into how they had amassed 'such huge assets'.
As a result of this memorandum, the Department of Cooperatives, Government of Maharashtra, initiated an inquiry. Even as the inquiry was going on, a past president of the Employees Union, Anantsingh Patil, wrote an ever-so-helpful letter to Pratibha Patil, on the Union's letterhead, informing her that she had nothing to do with the irregularities of the bank! He even tendered an apology to her on behalf of the Union! The Union nails the lie. It points to several telling facts. For instance, it says, on 22, January, 2002, the Board had met and, much as the Congress does today !, by resolution no. 23, authorized Pratibha Patil to decide who should be on the Board of Directors and who should be the bank's Chief Executive.
But the matter did not end with the Union's letter or the inquiry of the Maharashtra Government's Cooperative Department. The Reserve Bank of India went into the waiver also. In its confidential inspection report dated 18 June, 2002, found the charge of financial fraud involving those large interest waivers to Pratibha Patil's three close relatives to be valid. It also noted that the Board had not taken approval of the AGM for the loan waiver.
Some women were certainly getting empowered!
Memoranda of the Employees Union show that such enterprising sleights-of-account-books were part of a pattern. The memoranda and communications were sent to, among others, Pratibha Patil herself. For instance, in a letter to her on 13 March, 2002, the President, Vice-president and Secretary of the Union informed her that
She had allowed her elder brother, Dilipsingh Patil, to use the bank's telephone (no. 224672, which he had got installed at his residence) for running his stock exchange business. He ran up a bill of Rs. 20 lakh. Phone records showed that the calls were made to sharebrokers in Mumbai. These records were subsequently destroyed. But later the charge was found to be one of substance. It was one of the things that Amol Khairnar, who was appointed as the chief administrator of bank, asked P.D. Patil, manager of the bank, to explain in the show-cause notice that the former issued on 1 February, 2003.
The show-cause notice also mentioned that the Pratibha Mahil Sahakari Bank had extended unlawful loans to the Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory from time to time. As you will recall, the sugar factory too was set up by Pratibha Patil herself to help rural youth! It was inaugurated by Sonia Gandhi in 1999. As The Asian Age has reported, like the Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank, the mill too has closed down but only after running up a loan default of nearly Rs. 20 crore and without ever producing much sugar!
The bank also gave loans to undeserving persons to buy shares of the Sant Muktabai Cooperative Sugar Factory. Pratibha Patil and her brothers did so for a reason that my good friend of long-standing, Sharad Pawar would again find nothing extraordinary: they did so in order to retain control over the sugar factory by having these shareholders support her in 'elections' to the cooperative.
If you don't stop
'It is because of these reasons that the bank is now on the verge of going bankrupt,' the Employees Union charged. It then posed a question to her that those like my friend Sharad Pawar -- who are making light of this state of affairs in the bank on the ground that such things are nothing new in cooperatives would like to answer: 'Whom should the society trust if politicians like you start cooperative institutions to rob the hard-earned wealth of ordinary people?'
And then come two paragraphs that should be weighed in the scale of the high office to which Pratibha Patil is being catapulted. Before concluding, the Union's President, Vice-president and Secretary state, 'You are the Founder Chairperson of this bank, but you are today attempting, out of selfish reasons, to lead the bank to its demise. You know that the RBI has decided to cancel the bank's license if its financial condition does not improve by March 2002. Once the license is cancelled and the bank is liquidated, you are quite capable of covering-up the fraud you have committed on the bank and the people of this region by using your influence on the Government of Maharashtra.'
And then comes the last para. To get to know our next President, the one who will be the Guardian of our Constitution, do read it twice: 'There is threat to our lives and to the lives of our family members from you. You have already communicated this to us in our meeting with you. Although you have made us aware of this threat, we are prepared to lay down our lives for the pursuit of truth. If something happens to us or to members of our families, accidentally or otherwise, you will be responsible for it, which please note.'
And a letter from the women who were to be empowered
We have focused on 'women' who got loans. But who were the depositors? They were the poor women of the area who were eking out a living by selling vegetables, by collecting rags
What were they telling our 'firm believer in women's causes', our 'tireless champion of
'? A representative, and typically plaintive letter from them, awakens us to their wail:
'We opened accounts in your bank trusting that it had been established to help poor women and to come to their aid in times of need. You know that the bank is now on the brink of bankruptcy. Therefore, a crisis is looming before ordinary depositors. Politicians plant saplings on Tree Plantation Day and get their photographs printed in newspapers the next day. But they don't take care of the sapling thereafter. This bank too was a sapling that you had planted. It was growing well and promised to bear fruit. It had given shelter to you too. Then who killed this tree? Once the bank is liquidated, those who took the loans do not have to worry, just as when a sahukar dies, the persons to whom he had lent money heave a sigh of relief. But what about poor women depositors like us who are vegetable vendors, fruit-sellers, rag-pickers, etc, who saved our meager earnings in your bank, hoping that the money would be useful to us in our old age or for the marriage of our daughters? Pratibhatai, we tried a lot to meet you personally. We were unsuccessful. But you know everything. Therefore, we urge you to disclose the names of all those culprits who are responsible for the bankruptcy of our bank.'
And what did our tireless champion of women's rights, our devotee of rural development do?
'It is all a BJP-conspiracy' - A murder they don't care about
- Arun Shourie
The 'cooperative' bank for empowering women liquidated under orders of the Reserve Bank. The sugar mill bankrupt, having swallowed over Rs. 20 crore of unpaid loans. We see the very same pattern in the other endeavours of our next President. Her bio-data speaks of the Shram Sadhana Trust that she has set up. It runs an engineering college - for rural youth, as the bio-data says.
What do documents show? A Medical Aid Account is set up for students. Naturally, money from it goes to doctors - and, lo and behold, her brother, Dr. GN Patil's name stands out by a mile. Employees of the college turn out to be working at the residences of the various directors - some in Mumbai. A guest house is built, and comes to be used, not by academicians visiting the college, but by members of the family. Money collected from the students goes to the soon-to-be-declared bankrupt sugar mill. Money is taken from the teachers' salaries as compulsory deposits in that family-controlled 'cooperative' bank; these deposits are used to enroll 'shareholders' in the bank - who in turn help the family win the 'elections' of the cooperative bank. A pattern through and through.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who has been so exercised about enforcing morality on the media, is unmoved. 'A visibly upset Dasmunsi hit out at the NDA for trying to malign Patil's image,' The Indian Express reports. 'In the process, he drew a parallel between Patil's case and "many political leaders" whose brothers, sisters and relatives were loan defaulters and also "electronic media industry" which has been slapped with plenty of notices.'
Surely, the answer is to bring them to book too. Surely, the answer is to do what so many of us have been demanding for so long - namely, to publish the names of all bank-defaulters. Not to pick one of them at random and make her or him President of India!
In any case, even Munsi, in spite of his fertile imagination, will not claim that murder has brushed the hem of the 'electronic media industry' as closely as it has in this instance.
Names and dates
But first a few names and dates.
Vishram G. Patil: Professor of English at a college in Jalagaon affiliated to the North Maharashtra University. A Congressman for thirty years. Elected President of the District Congress Committee not once but thrice. Murdered on 21 September, 2005.
Rajani Patil: his wife. Professor of Marathi at the same college.
G.N. Patil: brother of the UPA nominee for the Presidentship of India. Rival and adversary of Vishram Patil. Defeated by Vishram Patil in his effort to become President of the District Congress Committee.
Ulhas Patil: former member of Parliament. Close associate of G.N. Patil. Rival and adversary of Vishram Patil. Runs a number of NGOs.
Raju Mali and Raju Sonawane: two arrested for murdering Vishram Patil. Raju Mali tells Aaj Tak correspondent that they are just being made sacrificial goats. The real perpetrators of the murder are at large. Who are they, he is asked. "The persons who are being named by Rajani Patil," he says. He suddenly dies in police custody - three days after, at long last, the CBI team visits Jalagaon on its first visit.
Leeladhar Narkhede and Damodar Lokhande: two who are named as having financed the murder of Vishram Patil. Phone records show several calls between them and G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil on the day before the murder, on the day of the murder and on the day after. The two are picked up. But four months later, they are let off. The FIR about them is withdrawn.
A few dates:
21 September, 2005: Vishram Patil murdered. Great commotion in Jalagaon. People openly say that he has been killed as the result of a supari having been given to murder him. By the fourth day, Police say they have completed '90 per cent' of the investigation, and will soon get the killers and those behind them. Police arrest the two who confess to the actual murder.
October 2006: Aaj Tak puts out a detailed story by Manish Awasthi cataloguing the murder. In it, Aaj Tak takes viewers through the records of the mobile telephone company that establish that numerous calls were made between the two reported financiers of the murder and the brother of Pratibha Patil, G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil - the calls were made on the day before the murder, on the day of the murder and on the day after the murder. The channel shows the exact times and duration of the calls from the records of the mobile phone company. Awasthi's story contains a devastating interview of Raju Mali from within the jail. In September 2005, they had gone on an indefinite fast inside the jail. Raju Mali says in the interview that they had stopped taking food to protest against the Police for not arresting, for not even questioning the real culprits, 'the persons named by Rajani Patil'. 'We have simply been made sacrificial goats in the case while the real culprits are untouched.'
4 April, 2007: a year and a half after the murder, and after vicissitudes that we shall soon encounter, the CBI team comes to Jalagaon for its first visit.
7 April, 2007: the CBI team interrogates Rajani Patil, the widow of the murdered DCC President. But something else happens in the jail not far away: Raju Mali dies in Police custody.
The brother of Pratibha Patil, G.N. Patil -- who, as we have seen, has been a close collaborator in her endeavours to empower women and bring succour to rural youth - is a frustrated rival of Vishram Patil. The latter has defeated him to the Presidentship of the District Congress Committee. Congress workers collect funds - ostensibly to provide relief to tsunami victims. These are never deposited in the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.
Congress workers again collect funds - this time to felicitate Pratibha Patil upon her appointment as Governor of Rajasthan. No one hears what happens to these funds either.
Several office-bearers of the District Congress Committee send a memorandum to Prabha Rau, head of the Maharashtra Congress, asking her to institute an inquiry into the missing funds. They receive no reply.
15 August, 2005: nine office-bearers of the DCC issue a press release saying that G.N. Patil, the brother of Pratibha Patil, has not submitted accounts of funds that were collected by Congress workers for felicitating Pratibha Patil.
Vishram Patil commences an inquiry within the Congress into the misappropriation of the funds. He also commences an inquiry into financial dealings of Ulhas Patil and his NGOs. He brings the matter to the attention of the high-command of the Congress. He receives three anonymous letters. Written in hand, they state that a supari has been given out to kill him, that he should be careful. He persists with the inquiry.
He is killed. Local dailies are full of the murder. They surmise that it is the result of political rivalries in the District Congress Committee.
Because of the enormous commotion among the local people, the Police act. Within a few days, they nab the killers.
They make swift progress in the investigation. They tell Rajani Patil, the widow, that 90 per cent of the investigation is over, that they will soon get the ones who instigated the murder also.
Suddenly, the investigation goes off the rails. The police now put out a story that the murder actually took place because of a dispute over money that Raju Mali had borrowed from Vishram Patil. Rajani Patil strongly refutes the insinuation. Local papers puncture holes in this new concoction of the Police. As suddenly as the concoction had been put out, the investigation is taken out of the hands of the local police entirely, and turned over to the CID of the state Government.
26 September, 2005: alarmed at the way the investigation is being derailed, the widow, Rajani Patil writes to Sonia Gandhi. She says, 'The brain behind the crime is pressurizing the investigation process.'
27 September, 2005: a local paper, Deshdoot, reports that at a press conference, Rajiv Patil, the parabhari adhyaksha of the Congress, has said that Raju Mali, the killer, is an agent of G.N. Patil, the brother of Pratibha Patil, Governor of Rajasthan. Another report in the paper says that everyone in Jalagaon is talking about the contract killing, about how much was paid for it, and by whom. The same day, 27 September, 2005, thirteen office-bearers of the District Congress Committee write to the local Superintendent of Police.
They name G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil as being the persons behind the murder and express grave concern that the investigation is being dragged down to a crawl.
28 September, 2005: Local papers like Deshdoot and Deshunnati carry a tell-tale photograph. It is the day the election of the District Congress Committee President takes place. A group is standing around the victor, Vishram Patil. In the picture, mysteriously, is Raju Mali - the very man who is to kill Vishram Patil soon. He was not and is not a member of the Congress, the papers say. Who let him into the party office? With whose blessing was he roaming inside the office? With who is he linked? They have no doubt about the answer.
On 28 September, 2005, Manik Rao Gavit, the Minister of State in the Home Ministry at the Centre, writes to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He writes that he has received a letter from the Working President of the Jalagaon District Congress Committee, Rajiv Patil, in which the latter has named G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil as the conspirators behind the murder. Gavit says that there is haa-haakaar in the local Congress, hence he is sending Rajiv Patil's letter. He urges the Chief Minister to have the matter investigated in this direction and to do everything necessary to get at the real culprits and have them punished. The local papers are full of the inaction that has overtaken the investigation. The real culprits are at large, they say. The names of G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil are splashed across the headlines of stories connected with the murder. Rajani Patil, the widow, writes to the local Police chief: 'This murder has been committed out of political enmity. I therefore urge you to investigate the case from this angle and arrest the persons concerned. I strongly believe that, under somebody's pressure, there is an attempt to misdirect the Police investigation by fabricating cock-and-bull stories.'
5 October, 2005: Rajiv Patil, the parabhari-adhyaksha of the Congress, writes to the Chief Minister, to the Director General of Police, and to the head of the Pune Branch of the CID. He records his concern that the investigation is going nowhere. He urges that some of the officers who were handling the initial investigation and who know the facts should be involved in the inquiry. He gives the names of the concerned officers.
He receives no reply.
15 October, 2005: Rajiv Patil writes to the authorities again pointing to the connection between the killers and G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil. He says that the killers who have been nabbed were never Congress activists, that they were brought to the Congress office by G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil only at the time of the DCC election.
1 December, 2005: two months have gone by since the murder, the investigation has been steered into the wrong direction all too-patently. Rajani Patil, the widow, writes to R.R. Patil, the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister of the state. She expresses her anguish at what has been done to the investigation. It is going nowhere, she says. The police had assured us that 90 per cent of the investigation is over and that they will soon get to the real conspirators. But as 'the real conspirators have high-level connections, when only 10 per cent of the investigation was left, the case was taken out of their hands and given to the state CID.'
8 December, 2005: Rajani Patil again writes to the Chief Minister and Home Minister of the state. She strongly repudiates the police insinuation that there was some financial dispute between her husband and the killers. My husband was killed because of the supari given by the political rivals of my husband, she writes. You can find out who gave the supari by asking the two who are in custody, she tells them.
There is no response.
Rajani Patil travels to Delhi. She meets Sonia Gandhi personally in January 2006. She narrates the sequence of the case. She also meets other Congress bigwigs - Ahmed Patel, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Margaret Alva and others.
They move not a finger. Instead, the FIR against the two who are said to have financed the murder is dropped. Having first snatched the investigation away from the local police and transferred it to the state CID, the Government now decides that the investigation is best done by the CBI!
Three months pass - ostensibly waiting for the CBI to respond. Eventually, the CBI informs the state Government that it is overwhelmed with work, that as the case has no 'inter-state or international ramifications', it is not a fit case for the agency.
Everyone sees through the attempt to kill the inquiry and thus protect the real conspirators. The intrepid widow files a petition in the Aurangabad Bench of the High Court. On 23 February, 2007, by a detailed order the Court dismisses the CBI's objections about there being no 'inter-state or international ramifications'. We are aware of this as well as of the work which the agency is already handling, the Court records. That is why only in exceptional cases does the Court direct it to take the case in hand. This is a case of that kind. 'We have scrutinized the record with the help of counsel of both sides,' the Court records in its order. 'We have considered the chequered history of the present case, the developments which have taken place after filing of the chargesheet, issues involved, and the reference to alleged conspiracy by influential political leaders of the region. Having regard to the importance of the issues involved and the alleged complicity of the influential political leaders., in our considered opinion, this is a fit case where the investigation should be conducted by the CBI.'
Of course, by knocking the investigation around - from the local police to the state CID to the CBI, only to have the CBI turn down the case - the powers-that-be have already achieved one objective: by now, more than a year and a half has passed since the murder was committed.
5 March, 2007: disheartened and broken, Rajani Patil again writes to Sonia Gandhi. As you also lost your husband, you are the one person who will understand my wound, she writes. She recalls the anonymous letters that her husband had received warning him to desist from the inquiry, warning that 'a supari to murder my husband had been given by Dr. Ulhas Patil and Dr. G.N. Patil, the brother of Smt. Pratibha Patil, Governor of Rajasthan. On the morning of 21.9.2005, my husband was brutally murdered.' 'I fear that my whole family is likely to get liquidated by these brutal murderers if they continue to get politically patronized by the party,' she concludes.
She receives no reply.
Recounting all this in the memorandum she submits to the President later on, and driven to despondence by the fact that no one has paid the slightest heed to her tears and pleas, she adds, 'I feel anguished that they are indeed getting politically patronized by the party.'
The CBI team comes at last to Jalagaon on 4 April, 2007. It interrogates the widow on 7 April. On the same day, the killer, Raju Mali dies in police custody.
Throughout this period, the widow, Rajani Patil, is pleading before the state and Congress authorities. Not just she, but functionaries of the local Congress themselves, in particular Shridhar Bapu Chaudhury, the party's General Secretary keep dispatching letters and memoranda pointing to G.N. Patil and Ulhas Patil. All these letters as well as those of Rajiv Patil, the prabhari adhyaksha of the Congress in Jalagaon, are on letterheads of the Congress.
'It is all a BJP ploy. It shows their desperation at not being able to find a candidate of the stature of Pratibha Patil,' proclaim the Congress spokesmen. But the record consists of letters, memoranda, press conferences, writ petitions of Congressmen.
But I am on another point: assume that everything is a conspiracy of the BJP. What about the facts? What about the facts, for instance, set out by Aaj Tak?
'But why now? The timing of these allegations itself shows that they have been manufactured only to tarnish the image of Pratibha Patil as she is standing for the Presidentship of the country. After all, why are they bringing up these things now?' This is their other, wholly predictable defence.
It so happens that all the events, documents, proceedings in court, communications, etc., pertain to the period before Pratibha Patil was plucked from nowhere to be the Presidential candidate. And they are being recounted today precisely because Pratibha Patil has been nominated to become the President of the country. Till the other day, these were frauds of some district politicians. The murder was of concern primarily to the Jalagaon people. Precisely because Pratibha Patil is likely to become the President, each facet -- the financial frauds, the murder, the deliberate derailment of the investigation -- becomes a matter of urgent national concern. If the frauds and murder are not exhumed today, why, that would be a real conspiracy.
Could it be that the Congress high-ups, in particular Sonia Gandhi, did not know about these associations of Pratibha Patil? I was at first inclined to think so. After all, Pratibha Patil's name had been picked out of a hat at the last minute. There might have been no time for a background check.
But on going through these letters after letters, these memoranda after memoranda - one and all of them written and sent by Congressmen, one and all of them sent to Congressmen; after reading Rajani Patil's account of her meeting with Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders in Delhi; after going through the proceedings in courts; after seeing the screaming headlines of the local papers, I just can not believe that neither Sonia Gandhi nor her immediate colleagues remembered nothing of the case.
After all, the head of their own party in the district, the very man who had been thrice elected to the post, had been killed. After all, all concerned in the party unit had been pointing to an ex-MP of the Congress and the brother of the Governor of Rajasthan. how could everyone have forgotten? Murders of district Congress chiefs are still not that common.
So, the only inference is that they knew of the antecedents of Pratibha Patil and for the very antecedents selected her.
And that stands to reason. A person who is weak and dutifully submissive is already Prime Minister. But he has one defect - being financially honest, he is not vulnerable. There is always the danger, inconceivable though it seems at present, that at some point, he may throw up his hands...
So, what is needed is not just a weak person. What is needed is a person who is weak and vulnerable.