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Damage control after sting

india Updated: Sep 28, 2006 03:05 IST

The Congress on Wednesday refused to be drawn into the controversy triggered by the latest expose on the Jessica Lall murder case. Congress minister in the Haryana government Venod Sharma has been accused of bribing key witnesses to turn hostile in the case in which his son Manu is implicated.

The party refused to comment, arguing that the matter was sub judice. “The law will take its own course’’ was AICC spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi’s stock response to every question on the subject at the party’s regular briefing.

The ripples of the revelations, meanwhile, were felt in Haryana's corridors of power. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) on Wednesday demanded the immediate dismissal and arrest of Sharma, the state power minister.

In a statement, INLD secretary-general and Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Singh Chautala said Sharma should be immediately removed from the state Assembly for his role in subverting justice in the case. "The murder case should be reinvestigated and tried again," he said.

The revelations have pushed the state government on the backfoot. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala  ducked when asked for his reaction on the latest developments in the case. "I have not seen what the TV channels are showing. And the newspaper reports are based on the story of another newspaper," he said, refusing to comment on the matter.

In Delhi, Congress spokesman Chaturvedi shot down questions that the Congress was taking a  different stand on the Haryana minister when it had removed Natwar Singh as External Affairs Minister for his alleged role in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal and  endorsed Parliament's decision to expel 10 Lok Sabha members found involved in the “cash-for-question” scam.

Chaturvedi refused to react even when it was brought to his notice that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had, in the backdrop of the Jessica Lall murder case, written to Home Minister Shivraj Patil in March suggesting that the government amend the Criminal Procedure Code to protect witnesses in criminal cases and ensure they do not turn hostile.

If the expose is found to be true, senior leaders said, it would be deeply embarrassing for the party which, however, has not initiated any probe.