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Top priority: protect Sonia

New Delhi, March 3: Governor Syed Sibtey Razi and the Congress high command's observers to Jharkhand have been left holding the can for the embarrassment caused by Shibu Soren's hurried installation in the chief minister's chair as the party rushed to build a shield around Sonia Gandhi.

Congress leader Ambika Soni asserted that Sonia's standing instruction to the party was to be always on the right side of the Constitution.

'I am not talking about today; the Congress has formed governments in many states and the party president has given instruction that there should not be any violation of the Constitution anywhere,' Soni, said to be close to Sonia, said.

The Opposition, however, was likening the Congress president and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to 'real criminals', which was L.K. Advani's description without naming names. BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra supplied the names later.

Having been handed sitting ducks to fire at, the BJP ' in the dumps till the other day ' has begun the job of demolishing the aura of Sonia-after-renunciation and Clean Mr Singh.

Given the adverse circumstances, particularly after the BJP alliance paraded 41 MLAs before President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, it would be a struggle for the Congress to prove the Big Two were not aware of the developments in Jharkhand.

It showed in Soni's statement. She did not explain if the governor had been reminded of the 'standing instruction'.

Razi was here a few days ago, but Soni said the decision to invite Soren was entirely the governor's. The leadership was silent about any instructions having been given to the AICC observers, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Ajit Jogi.

In private, Congress leaders said an over-enthusiastic team of observers could have prodded the governor to act in 'haste'.

The party put off the daily briefing as the leadership swung into action to contain the damage.

The home ministry distanced itself from the Jharkhand developments. 'The decisions taken by the governor are his own... this is not a matter on which the home ministry could advise or direct the governor, formally or informally,' a source said.

Sonia conferred with the Prime Minister, discussing options in Bihar, too. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav is believed to have pressed his case for government formation in Patna at a meeting with Sonia.

Singh also consulted attorney-general Milon Banerjee.

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