| A file picture of Naina Sahni
|Sushil Sharma at a Delhi court on Monday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Nov. 3: Former Youth Congress leader Sushil Sharma has been found guilty of killing his wife and roasting her body in a tandoor, bringing back into focus one of the most macabre murders that ripped the veil off sex and sleaze in Indian politics.
The tandoor case — as the incident in an oven of a restaurant in a Delhi hotel on July 2, 1995, came to be known as — had shaken the then Narasimha Rao government as names of a minister and other Congress leaders did the rounds then as suspects.
The Congress had distanced itself from Sharma and expelled him after his arrest but, in an ironical twist, the verdict has come less than a month before the Congress-led Sheila Dikshit government goes to the polls.
Contender BJP did not waste the chance to rub in the salt. “It is a journey from Mahatma Gandhi to Sushil Sharma for the Congress,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar said.
Additional sessions judge G.P. Thareja said “charges under Section 302 of the IPC against Sharma for causing murder of Naina Sahni are proved beyond doubt”. The section carries as punishment death penalty or life imprisonment. The court will hear arguments on the quantum of punishment on Wednesday.
According to the chargesheet, Sharma killed the 28-year-old Naina as he believed that she was continuing an affair with classmate and fellow Congressman Matloob Karim.
The judge also held Keshav Kumar, the former manager of Bagiya restaurant in ITDC’s Ashok Yatri Nivas hotel, guilty of conspiring with Sharma to destroy vital evidence by burning Naina’s body in the tandoor.
However, Kumar was absolved of other charges of criminal conspiracy and murdering Naina, who was also a Congress sympathiser.
“Charges of criminal conspiracy to cause disappearance of evidence of murder stand proved against both accused, Sharma and Kumar,” the 254-page order said.
The court acquitted the remaining three accused — Jai Prakash, Ram Prakash and Rishi Raj — in the absence of evidence to substantiate the prosecution charge that they had harboured Sharma.
D.K. Rao, a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer who was then resident commissioner of Gujarat Bhavan, will face prosecution for giving shelter to Sharma on the night of the crime.
Police had alleged that Sharma stayed with Rao at Gujarat Bhavan in Chanakyapuri after murdering his wife. Sharma fled to Jaipur the next day.
Kumar’s lawyer V.K. Ohri said Rao had accepted in his confessional statement to a magistrate that he had provided shelter to Sharma, but later denied it. He will be charged with perjury, apart from the fact that he gave shelter to a criminal, Ohri added.
The court also directed the Gujarat chief secretary to take “appropriate administrative steps for dereliction of duties by employees at Gujarat Bhavan”.
The courtroom was packed beyond capacity, prompting the judge to appeal to lawyers to make way for the defence counsel and public prosecutor.
Before the judge pronounced the order at 3.30 pm, about 20 activists of two non-government organisations had gathered inside the Tis Hazari court complex and started shouting slogans like “Sushil ko phansi do (hang Sushil)” and flashed placards that said “Tandoor Congress”. Police eventually took them out of the complex.
Sharma and Kumar, who have been in custody all through the trial, were present in the courtroom. Clad in white, the bearded Sharma remained impassive as the conviction order was read out.
“No comments,” Sharma said later as he was being whisked away. But Kumar’s elder brother Surinder Singh was busy distributing sweets.
According to the chargesheet, Sharma, who reached his flat in the heart of the capital on July 2, 1995, saw Naina consuming vodka and talking to someone over telephone.
Seeing him, she put down the receiver. Sharma suspected that she was chatting with Karim and redialled the number. Karim responded from the other end.
Infuriated, Sharma took out his licensed revolver and fired at Naina. One bullet pierced her head and the other hit the neck, killing her on the spot. Sharma then took the body in his car to the Bagiya restaurant, where he and Kumar attempted to burn it in a tandoor.
However, the clouds of smoke that billowed out of the tandoor caught the attention of beat constable Abdul Nazir Kunju and home guard Chanderpal, who rushed to the scene. Fire tenders followed, only to recover the burnt remains of a mutilated body.
Sharma fled to Jaipur and from there went to Mumbai. He later shifted to Chennai, where he got anticipatory bail. A police team flew to Chennai but Sharma escaped to Bangalore, where he surrendered. He was then arrested and brought to Delhi.