HARYANA'S POWER and Public Works Department Minister Venod Sharma has resigned from the council of ministers. He is the father of Manu Sharma, accused in the Jessica Lall murder case.
The intention is clearly damage control, an effort to distance the Congress party from the sordid affair. "There is no truth in the allegations against my son," Sharma told the Hindustan Times. "I have sent my resignation to uphold the highest values of the Congress and insulate it from the Opposition's attacks on an issue relating to my family with which the party has nothing to do."
Congress sources said Venod Sharma handed his resignation to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to be forwarded to the party president Sonia Gandhi. The resignation is likely to be accepted. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, has taken a personal interest in the Jessica case. In March this year she wrote to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, suggesting amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to "protect witnesses in criminal cases to ensure they do not turn hostile". The letter was sent after the countrywide uproar over the acquittal of all the nine accused in the Jessica case, including Manu, for want of evidence as many witnesses turned hostile. Later, Congress members in Parliament demanded that the accused be tried again.
However, the immediate provocation for Venod Sharma's resignation stems from a recent TV sting operation which suggested that one of the witness, Karan Rajput, who has since died, received Rs 30 lakh from Sharma to change his testimony against Manu.
Sharma, however, claimed the allegations against him were "concocted". "I have sent a legal notice to the channel that aired the tapes," he said. This is not the first time that Sharma's political career has been jeopardized by the case against his son. He had resigned as president of the Congress's Chandigarh unit after Jessica was killed on April 29, 1999. Jessica's sister Sabrina termed the resignation as a right step. "There were reports that the Sharmas had influenced witnesses…. So I think he has done the right thing," she told private news channel NDTV 24x7. Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi "welcomed" Sharma's resignation saying it was based on "high moral ground" and not culpability.