The Congress rejected the Left's demand that the UPA government actively intervene to get the death sentence passed against former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein rescinded and dismissed allegations that the Manmohan Singh regime had succumbed to US pressure by failing to condemn the sentence.
"There is no question of interfering in matters of another country. There is also no question of toeing anyone's line," spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.
Conscious of its role as ruling party, the Congress, in line with the UPA government's reaction, opted for the middle ground by neither condemning nor condoning the verdict. But it emphasized that the verdict be carefully scrutinised by the appellate process.
The Government's studied reaction had seemed to take into account the geopolitical realities so that it did not disturb its relations with the Iraqi people, the shia community or the US. While refusing to react whether Hussein's trial was fair, the party contented itself by raising the issue of the credibility of the origin and working of the Court in Iraq, stressing that judicial verdicts have to inspire confidence and every confidence building measure should be injected into the legal framework during the "automatic appeal" against the death sentence.
Singhvi also expressed the hope that peace and tranquility and democratic process would not be impeded by the Court's decision.
The tightrope walk by the All India Congress Committee contrasted sharply with the strong stand taken by its state unit in Kerala that condemned the death sentence. Denying that the Congress sought to play both ways by allowing its state units to oppose the verdict, Singhvi saw Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee Ramesh Chennitala's remarks to the latter's "personal views".
But the Congress is coming under pressure. Though the BJP refrained from speaking on the subject for the second consecutive day, the Samajwadi Party joined the CPM and the CPI in opposing and condemning the death sentence.
And in an indication that the SP would try and make it an issue in the UP assembly polls next year, UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav alleged that the Congress had not taken a strong stand on the matter even though he had stood by India. He also said that the American president should be put in the dock for the armed attack on innocent Iraqis and demanded that the Government convene an all-party meeting to discuss the Hussein issue.
Reacting to queries, Singhvi saw no merit in the argument that India, which had made an issue of the hanging of Pakistan leader ZA Bhutto, was reacting mildly to Hussein's death sentence. The context and scenario of the two developments were "far different", he said.