Beleaguered Minister for State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday amidst indications that he may get a reprieve at least, for the time being.
Tharoor, battling allegations that he had misused authority to help his friend Sunanda Pushkar to get 'free' equity of the value of Rs 70 crore in the Indian Premier League Kochi franchise, had a "brief" meeting with Gandhi.
There was no official word on the meeting, but the minister is understood to have explained his side of the version of the whole controversy in his first meeting with the party chief since the row broke out.
Party sources said that Tharoor may get a respite in the matter, at least for the time being, in the backdrop of accusations that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi had got together to take the Kochi bid away to Ahemdabad.
"How can we take any action at a time when the BJP will get the advantage and put us in a tight spot?" said a party leader on condition of anonymity.
The strategy of Congress about Tharoor appeared to be to give the minister the benefit of doubt on the principle of 'innocent till found guilty'.
"Let all facts come out, then the party will react," said Party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed to a volley of questions at the All India Congress Committee briefing, reflecting the line of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is currently abroad.
Ahmed also dismissed suggestions that Tharoor has always been in news for all the wrong reasons.
"Please do not say he is always making news for all wrong reasons. He was elected to Lok Sabha and that did not make news for wrong reasons. He also contested for UN secretary general's post without making any news for wrong reasons," he said.
IPL's Kochi franchise alleged on Thursday that Modi was targeting the new team under pressure from the Gujarat chief minister.
The Congress spokesperson, however, refused to comment on the allegations regarding 'free equity' to Sunanda, saying the party would not like to say anything on these issues till full facts do not arrive.
Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party joined the chorus of the demand for Tharoor's sacking from government on Thursday, saying that he has been "exposed" in the IPL Kochi bid controversy.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said Tharoor should step down immediately and the government should investigate the whole issue.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and Left parties have been demanding his sacking in wake of the controversy.
"I have nothing to add or delete to what the AICC media department chief has already said on the issue," Ahmed said in response to repeated queries on the Tharoor controversy.
Dwivedi had earlier distanced from the controversy saying it was for Tharoor to explain over the issue.
Tharoor, who had a second meeting with senior party leaders Pranab Mukherjee and A K Antony on Thursday, said he was open to making a statement in the Lok Sabha on the issue of Kochi IPL ownership controversy if asked to do so.
Meanwhile, a senior NCP leader, on condition of anonymity, dismissed the specualation that its party chief Sharad Pawar has anything to do with the issue.
He alleged "Tharoor's aides" are resorting to such things because they want to score some brownie points within Congress by speaking against the Nationalist Congress Party and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
He said who met whom and other are not core issues. "The core issue is that for what reason the sweat equity was alloted to Sunanda Pushkar and others. There are others also whose names have come to fore. For what they are getting it?" he said.
IPL Kochi franchise spokesperson Satyajit Gaekwad told reporters: "We were told that we won't be allowed to work. The Adani group and Narendra Modi had a stake in the
Ahmedabad IPL bid. After we won the bid, our investors spoke to (former BCCI chief) Sharad Pawar and asked him which city to choose. He said 'you can take your pick', so we decided to take Kochi."
"The inaugural IPL bidding happened when Vasundhra Raje Scindia was Rajasthan's chief minister. Vasundhra and Narendra Modi may have put pressure on Lalit (Modi) to bring a team to Ahmedabad. There is politics involved," Gaekwad added.