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Tehelka glare on Congress

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The Congress today continued to grapple with insinuations about being “soft” on Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal as it stayed focused on the snooping row that shows the Narendra Modi regime in poor light.

The Congress, which kept the same focus at its official news conference today despite raising the issue over six times, was again questioned about its disinterest in the Tehelka episode because of the perception that editor-in-chief Tejpal was close to its leadership.

Its spokespersons confronted the charge, reiterating the Congress’s zero tolerance of harassment of women and wondering why it was being accused of silence despite repeated articulation of its position.

Denying accusations of sympathy towards Tejpal, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “We condemn the attempt to do politics on rape. We respect the woman journalist and demand the police to act. Tejpal deserves to be punished.”

There is no doubt about Tejpal’s rapport with several Congress leaders. The information and broadcasting ministry had even taken a decision to induct him into the Prasar Bharati board but the decision was hastily rescinded.

Top Congress leaders, however, insist that Tejpal’s relations with certain leaders did not mean the party would compromise on such a sensitive matter and try to protect him in an alleged rape case.

Asked about the obsession with the snooping row despite the Tejpal episode, Surjewala said: “The Congress is committed to protect the dignity of every woman, whether being stalked by a chief minister or violated by an editor. Both deserve the strictest punishment.”

The Congress women’s wing chief Shobha Oza, who was present at the news conference, said: “It is unfortunate a personal affair is being politicised and a state affair is being personalised. We are clear from day one we are with the girl and fighting for her cause.

“We hailed the Goa government’s probe and the Union home minister too got in touch with the state government.”

Asked about BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s tweet that a Union minister was protecting Tejpal, Surjewala said: “Kapil Sibal has already clarified and we have nothing to add.”

Sibal has denied owning a single share in the magazine and dared Swaraj to name him instead of talking “tangentially”. “There is someone in BJP who has said that I am shielding Tejpal. That person should have the courage to name me.” He also clarified that he was not related to Tejpal.

Responding to the BJP’s allegation that Sonia Gandhi had written a letter to the Prime Minister in 2004 in favour of Tejpal, Surjewala said: “Everybody knows Tehelka exposed corruption in BJP in 2004 and showed Bangaru Laxman taking bribe. Several journalists were victimised and falsely implicated after that. A crime committed in 2013 can’t be viewed together with incidents of 2004. The two can’t be linked.”

BJP rebuttal

The BJP today denied the Congress charge that it was showing undue interest in the episode as Tehelka had once exposed its “wrongdoings”.

In Panaji, Manohar Parrikar told PTI: “As chief minister of Goa, my job is to ensure justice to the girl….”