The Congress core committee, which met in New Delhi
on Saturday in the wake of a controversy over Minority Affairs Minister AR Antulay's remarks on the killing of a police officer during the Mumbai terror attacks, put off a decision on his resignation with party managers deciding that the government would instead make a statement in parliament on the issue.
Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister AK Antony, Home Minister P Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel attended the meeting, held at the prime minister's residence.
"A clarification on the issue from the party or the government is unlikely today (Saturday) or tomorrow (Sunday)," a top Congress leader told IANS.
"As Pranab Mukherjee assured the house (Lok Sabha) that the government will come with a suitable reply before the current session ends, a statement on the matter outside the house is unlikely," he added.
“There will be a statement in parliament.”
But even as the party deliberated Antulay's fate, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh came out in defence of Antulay, whose remarks on Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare's death while fighting the attackers have created a major political controversy.
"What is wrong in his (Antulay's) statement? Antulay has been misreported. All he has said the matter should be investigated as to who ordered him (Karkare) to go there (Cama Hospital) instead of the Taj and Trident hotels where the action was centred," said Singh.
Though the party has distanced itself from Antulay's remarks, it also realises that the minister is getting sufficient backers and that has made it difficult for it to take any hasty decision.
Highly placed government sources said Antulay had sent his resignation to Manmohan Singh after the uproar over his remarks in the Lok Sabha - and outside - on Karkare's killing but the minister refused to either confirm or deny whether he had put in his papers.
"I will not confirm or deny it," he said Friday. "I am a soldier of the party. You don't have to ask me to resign. If I have embarrassed the party or the government, I will be the first to send my resignation."
According to party insiders, Antulay wrote two letters to the prime minister, the first explaining the circumstances in which he made the remarks on Karkare and the second giving his resignation after the opposition clamour for his removal became louder - both inside and outside parliament.
Even after Digvijay Singh's statement, party managers said the Congress had not endorsed Antulay's views.
"There are no constituents in the party which endorse his (Antulay) views," said party spokesman Manish Tewari.
The 79-year-old Antulay suggested that Karkare's death could be linked to the Sep 29 Malegaon bombing he was investigating and in which members of Hindu radical groups are the main suspects.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha Wednesday, he said: "Superficially speaking, they (terrorists) had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he (Karkare) was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something I do not know.
"Karkare found that there are non-Muslims involved in acts of terrorism in some cases. Any person going to the roots of terrorism has always been the target," Antulay said, adding: "There is more than what meets the eye."
Despite the clamour for his removal getting louder, Antulay stood his ground.
While maintaining that Karkare and his two colleagues from the ATS were killed by the terrorists who attacked Mumbai Nov 26, he had said: "What I wanted to know was who directed them to drive towards Cama hospital when all the action was centred around the Taj, Nariman House and the Trident Oberoi?"