Hoping to cut its losses, an embarrassed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to move early to expel its Gujarat MP Babubhai Katara from the parliamentary party.
A day after the MP from Dahod was arrested for trying to smuggle a woman and her son on his wife and son's passports to Toronto, party leaders admitted on Thursday that the episode could be damaging to the party that has always tried to take the high moral ground.
The Katara episode is a jolt to the BJP, more so as it has taken place amid the ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Though some in the BJP said it would have no bearing on the elections because no one knows Katara in Uttar Pradesh, others admit that the opposition would score points against "the party with a difference".
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi has lost no time in describing it as a serious issue. "It involves forgery, impersonation, misrepresentation and possibly an immigration racket," he said, comparing the Katara episode to the ongoing case against mobster Abu Salem's girlfriend Monica Bedi in Bhopal.
The Gujarat unit of the Congress has also demanded an apology from the BJP as well as Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP parliamentary party had on Wednesday suspended Katara, who presides over the Dahod branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and issued him a show-cause notice asking him to explain in 10 days the circumstances leading to his arrest.
BJP leaders said the suspension was hastened at the instance of opposition leader LK Advani, who called parliamentary party spokesperson VK Malhotra and asked him to announce the party's action against Katara.
The MP from Gujarat was arrested at the international airport in New Delhi on Wednesday along with a woman described by police as Paramjit Kaur and a teenager Amarjeet Singh. According to police, Katara was facilitating their travel to Toronto as his wife Shardaben and his son.
According to airport sources, Katara and Paramjit were just "a chance catch". A woman, Simran, had misplaced her passport and officials began investigating. When questioned, Paramjit blurted out her own name instead of saying Shardaben.
The trio has been held on charges of impersonation, forged documents and cheating and will be produced in a Patiala House court on Thursday.