The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dharam dithers on Delhi damper
- Uma release hits hurdle

Sept. 1: The Karnataka government today sought more time to submit a written request for withdrawing riot cases against Uma Bharti, forcing the court to defer a decision till Saturday.

The move fuelled speculation that the Congress leadership is not as keen as it was on an early release for the jailed BJP leader. Congress sources said the party prefers the controversy to be play itself out in court.

The Congress high command is believed to have conveyed to chief minister Dharam Singh to make a subtle course correction after ally and railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav’s criticism yesterday.

The RJD chief had slammed the state government’s submission in Karnataka High Court that it stood by an earlier decision — also by a Congress regime — to withdraw all cases against Uma, accused of inciting riots after a controversial flag-raising ceremony in 1994 left several people dead.

The sources said the Monday submission in the high court had not gone down well with influential sections in the party’s state unit and also embarrassed the central leadership.

The Karnataka Congress, which also opposes Uma’s detention in a guesthouse rather than in jail, today issued advertisements in Kannada newspapers listing details of cases against her.

The BJP responded by threatening to file a defamation case against the Congress for putting out “objectionable” newspaper advertisements “defaming” the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister. “We are looking into legal aspects of defamation… to proceed legally against the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee,” BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters in Bangalore.

Congress insiders said the Monday submission was prompted by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, whose Janata Dal (S) is a partner in the Dharam Singh-led coalition. Gowda is believed to have been displeased with the earlier move by the state government to “reopen” the Uma case and give the BJP an issue to chart a confrontationist course. Apparently, Gowda was also “upset” that such a decision was taken without consulting his party.

Gowda’s views prevailed only for a day as the high command, worried about the possible negative fallout of the submission in the high court, asked the chief minister to retrieve the situation.

Today, assistant public prosecutor . Nagendra sought a week’s time from the Hubli court to submit the written plea. The high court had asked him to submit his report to the lower court, before which Uma had surrendered on August 25, on Monday.

Judicial Magistrate First Class Mohammed Ismail rejected Nagendra’s plea. The magistrate said he would pronounce the final order at 3 pm. However, in the afternoon, Nagendra handed in an application making known his intention to challenge the magistrate’s morning order. The magistrate then deferred the case to September 4.

Nagendra and public prosecutor S.A. Barigali told reporters later they would file the revision petition (against the magistrate’s order) either at the district sessions court, Hubli or the high court. “The JMFC (judicial magistrate first class) has given us time till Saturday to file the revision petition,” they said.

Sources in the state Congress said the course correction, evident in the “go-slow” approach before the Hubli court, was also dictated by the need to be “politically correct” in view of the crucial Lok Sabha bypoll in Bidar in north Karnataka. The constituency, which has a sizeable number of minority voters, has been held by the BJP since 1991. “We need to wrest the seat from the BJP,” said a senior leader.

The subtle shift in the party’s stand on the Uma issue was virtually confirmed by the central leadership in Delhi. Party spokesman Anand Sharma said the Karnataka government did not have anything to do with the Uma case. “It is an issue between the court and the accused,” he asserted.

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