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Manu Sharma?from luxury cocoon to dingy prison cell

The riches to rags story of Manu Sharma seems to end in a dark prison vault, where he is sentenced to life term for Jessica Lall's murder.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2006 12:44 IST

He was born to riches and educated at some of India's best schools. But the Delhi High Court on Wednesday sealed Manu Sharma's fate in a dark prison vault when it sentenced him to life for the murder of ramp model Jessica Lall in 1999.

The scion of a billionaire business and political family that is into hotels, sugar mills, orchards and other things, 29-year-old Manu (Siddharth) Sharma could not have foreseen that his life spent in a luxurious cocoon would end this way.

After his acquittal by a lower court in February, Manu had occupied himself in his family business. Nine months later, that reprieve ended when the Delhi High Court convicted him— along with his pals Amardeep Singh Gill and Vikas Yadav, an accused in the murder of Nitish Katara— for killing Jessica Lall during a party in an upmarket Delhi restaurant on April 30, 1999 because she refused him a drink.

That same day, he was sent to the Tihar Jail and spent the winter night on a cold, hard floor that seems to be his destiny now.

It's a far cry from a busy life looking after his bar and nightclub Blue Ice in Chandigarh and the family's two sugar mills in Haryana and Punjab.

His father, Venod Sharma, is a powerful politician in Haryana who represents the Ambala city assembly seat and was the most influential minister in the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government till he was forced to resign in October this year after the high court took up the Jessica Lall murder trial.

The resignation was the fallout of the trial being highlighted by an outraged media and public and accusations that Sharma had used his position and money to get his son acquitted.

The Sharma family in Chandigarh is a big business house— the Piccadilly group. Venod Sharma himself is a billionaire. The family business includes hotels in Chandigarh, Manali and other places, restaurants, cinema halls, orchards, farms, sugar mills and other properties.

The family, at one time, was into the liquor business and had complete monopoly in Himachal Pradesh.

The family had other powerful connections. Manu's uncle Sham Sunder, who was acquitted in the same case for harbouring him, is a son-in-law of late president Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Manu Sharma, who has a younger brother called Karthik, went to school at the elite Mayo College near Ajmer and studied in a couple of leading schools in Chandigarh. A commerce graduate from a local college in Chandigarh, Manu was generally good to his friends.

"He is a decent guy and has been good to all his friends. Though he came from a rich and influential family, he was not as spoilt as others. He was always very respectful. Even recently he seemed the same," an old classmate of Manu, who did not wish to be named said.

The friend said that Manu was very scared of his father. "He changed a bit after getting into the Delhi circle of friends," he added.

But many Chandigarh youngsters feel that whatever Manu did to Jessica was unpardonable and he should be punished for it.

"The law should be allowed to take its own course. His coming from a big family should not come in the way of his conviction. He has no right to take anyone's life," said second year students Shefali and Nandita.

First Published: Dec 20, 2006 12:44 IST