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Bofors case: Congress in damage control mode

Pressure mounted on the government to sack Law Minister HR Bharadwaj for his clean chit to Ottavio Quattrocchi.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2006 20:06 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

The Congress went into damage control mode on Friday with the Prime Minister's and party chief's offices distancing themselves from the move to de-freeze the London accounts of Ottavio Quattrocchi.

Pressure also mounted on the government to sack Law Minister HR Bharadwaj for his clean chit to Quattrocchi and justifying New Delhi's green signal to de-freeze his British accounts, even as the Central Bureau of Investigation reiterated it was seeking the Italian's extradition in the Bofors case.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi are believed to have said they were not aware of the de-freezing issue.

Bharadwaj's public statement on Thursday that there was no evidence against Quttarochhi and that there was justification for Additional Solicitor-General B Datta's visit to London to help de-freeze the accounts appears to have caught even the Prime Minister unawares.

According to Congress party sources, Manmohan Singh, who was "visibly upset and angry over the recent developments," told Congress leaders who met him that he did not have any information about the decision to de-freeze the accounts.

To add to Bhardwaj's woes, the Opposition was quick to demand his resignation. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Janata Dal-United leader George Fernandes asked the Prime Minister to explain the situation.

"He (Manmohan Singh) must answer the nation as to whether he was aware that a law officer in his government was undermining the proceedings of courts and the autonomy of the CBI; or whether he is party to this misuse of his government functionaries and bodies by Sonia Gandhi," Fernandes said.

"It is shocking that UPA government is using all its might to illegally bury the criminal deeds of a foreign citizen and personal friend of Gandhi," he said.

A section of the Congress leaders also claimed that Bharadwaj had made such a move without the "permission of the Prime Minister and sanction of Congress president" only to "show off loyalty" to the party leadership.

"It is ridiculous. Everyone is taking his own decision. How can the party and the government afford this?" questioned a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified.

Pointing out that the recent developments have indicated disarray in the party's functioning, the leader, who has served for long in the Congress Working Committee, said: "Gandhi has to take stringent measures to avoid these kind of embarrassments. The party's credibility is on hold."

First Published: Jan 13, 2006 20:06 IST