M A I N   N E W S

Jethmalani not to pull out
Cong fields covering candidate
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 15
The Congress was put in a spot today when former law minister Ram Jethmalani, who is contesting against the Prime Minister from Lucknow with its support, had to go to London suddenly because his son was taken seriously ill.

Although Mr Jethmalani assured the Congress that he was not withdrawing from the contest, the party is not so sure as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee issued a public appeal to his “friend and former Cabinet colleague” yesterday asking him not to battle him.

Consequently, the Congress has fielded another candidate, Akhilesh Das, from Lucknow.

Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal explained that the party had nominated Mr Das only as a cover candidate in case Mr Jethmalani is unable to come back to India soon because of his son’s poor health. “This is purely a contingency plan,” Mr Sibal maintained, adding that Mr Das will withdraw from the fray on Mr Jethmalani’s return.

Mr Sibal said when he spoke to Mr Jethmalani shortly before he flew out last night, he repeatedly assured him that he was very much in the fight.

Although this is the party’s official position, unofficially Congress leaders admit that Mr Jethmalani might just opt out of the race following the Prime Minister’s public appeal.” The Prime Minister will not issue such an appeal unless he has already spoken to Mr Jethmalani,” said a senior Congress leader, suspecting that this could well be a proverbial case of “match fixing.”

Congress leaders said Mr Jethmalani had sought their support as he had been keen to take on Mr Vajpayee in Lucknow. They said the former Law Minister had also assured them that he would personally speak to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to support him as a joint Opposition candidate. As it happened, both declined.

Mr Jethmalani may not be able to defeat Mr Vajpayee but he could end up embarassing him since the two have known each other for over four decades and the former has been a minister in the NDA government. Mr Jethmalani’s associates said the former Law Minister is not only outspoken but is also capable of digging out some uncomfortable facts about his opponent. By issuing a public appeal to Mr Jethmalani, the Prime Minister might be wanting to avoid any personal embarassment, it is felt.

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