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Ram adds to Congress confusion

New Delhi/Lucknow, April 17: The confusion over Ram Jethmalani’s candidature deepened further today when the noted lawyer, who is taking on Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency, denied having withdrawn from the contest.

The Independent candidate, who is being backed by the Congress and the Left, today sent a written note to the returning officer in Lucknow saying: “I remain a contesting candidate. No one has any authority to withdraw my candidature from the parliamentary election.”

Jethmalani’s office yesterday formally announced he was withdrawing from the contest because of urgent family problems. The former Union law minister in the Vajpayee cabinet had rushed to London with his ailing son on Wednesday night.

The Prime Minister had made an unprecedented appeal to Jethmalani the same day to step down from the contest, invoking their 40-year friendship.

Today, the lawyer did a volte face and Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal distributed his written note at a news conference amid a complicated explanation about a misunderstanding that led to “somebody” announcing Jethmalani’s withdrawal.

Sibal said the lawyer had given a blank form to someone in Lucknow to announce his withdrawal in case he was unable to return from London in time.

“As of now, he is a candidate in Lucknow against Vajpayee,” he added.

The Congress today renewed its attack on the Lucknow MP. “The Prime Minister is guilty of violating Article 123 of the Representation of Peoples Act which stipulates that there should be no interference with the poll process. It is a clear case of influencing a candidate which is an electoral offence,” Sibal said.

He said the Congress may decide to move a petition against Vajpayee after the elections and charge him with trying to influence voters.

“Any attempt to influence the voters is tantamount to corrupt practice under the law. “According to law, you cannot move such a petition till elections are over,” the Congress spokesperson said.

But the BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi today rejected the Congress allegation, saying it was making baseless charges.

Amid the confusion over Jethmalani’s candidature, the Congress fielded Akhilesh Das as a “back-up” candidate in case the lawyer pulls out. “He (Das) remains our candidate for now,” Sibal said today, compounding the confusion. The last date for withdrawals is Monday.

The flip-flop over Jethmalani is proving too much for Congress workers in Lucknow. Referring to the contradictory statements being made by and on behalf of the lawyer, party functionary Ashish Upadhyay, 35, said as he paced up and down the Vikramaditya Marg office that Jethmalani opened last week: “This is too much of a test of patience of us.”

In the last week, Jethmalani’s cutouts have been replaced by Das, but may now be re-installed after all. “This is like the recent cricket matches. One moment we are losing, another moment we are on the victory trail,” another Congress worker said.

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