A worried Congress on Thursday withdrew its controversial leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar from the electoral fray as the ghost of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots returned to haunt the party over their alleged role in the carnage.
"Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar have expressed their sentiments -- that they do not wish to embarrass the party by contesting the Lok Sabha elections -- when some political parties and individuals have tried to vitiate the atmosphere. They have opted out of the Lok Sabha elections. The party has accepted their feelings and decided that they will not be Lok Sabha candidates of the Indian National Congress," party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters shortly after Tytler announced his decision to opt out of the race.
The Congress decision comes amid a raging controversy over fielding the two leaders, whose names figured as accused in the 1984 riots, which was brought to the forefront when a Sikh journalist hurled a shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram at a press conference on Tuesday.
The journalist said he was protesting against the clean chit given by the Central Bureau of Investigation to Tytler in the riots case, an issue on which the agency today told a local court in New Delhi that it had no jurisdiction to go into. The case has been deferred till April 28.
Though the Congress maintained that it was the decision of Tytler and Kumar to withdraw from the race, a meeting late on Wednesday night appeared to have decided on this course. Sources said Gandhi called Dwivedi after a meeting of the Central Election Committee today afternoon and told him to announce the decision, expected to contain the damage to the party in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, where Sikhs form a considerable chunk of voters.
Though the party accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and Akali Dal of inciting sentiments, the sources said passions this time were intense and there was deliberate attempt to communalise the situation.
When asked why the duo had been nominated in the first place, if the party had fears about the political fall-out, Dwivedi said, "Both are our victorious candidates. They were nominated as they won the last Lok Sabha elections. Normally we have given tickets to sitting Members of Parliament."
Earlier, Tytler announced that he was quitting the Lok Sabha race, saying the controversy surrounding him has 'embarrassed the party and damaged its prospects'. "The media reports (of my alleged role) have damaged prospects of my party just before the elections. And at this particular time I think I should be away...I am not going to pursue my ticket with the party in this election," he told reporters.
"Media and the Akalis have created such an environment and that too at poll time that I think I should not contest," said Tytler. He, however, denied any pressure from the party for his decision. "Nobody in the party has approached me...," he said.
"Whatever Congress president tells me to do, I will do that. If they ask me to jump in the well, I will jump," the senior leader said. Kumar also spoke on similar lines, saying he was a 'loyal soldier' of the Congress and would do whatever the party tells him to do.
Tytler, 65, elected thrice to the Lok Sabha, was earlier forced to resign as minister for Overseas Indian Affairs in August 2005 in the wake of the Nanavati Commission report, which had indicted him. He was a candidate for the newly-created North East constituency of Delhi. A three-time Lok Sabha member from Outer Delhi constituency, Kumar was named as the candidate for the newly-created South Delhi constituency.