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|May 3, 1999||
Model's murderer continues to elude dragnet
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The Jessica Lal murder case gets curiouser and curiouser.
While the main accused, Siddharth Vasisht alias Manu Sharma, remains untraced, the police today questioned his father Venod Sharma, former Congress member in the Rajya Sabha from Punjab. The police claimed today that they have several specific leads on the whereabouts of Manu Sharma and would nab him in a day or two.
Manu Sharma's turbaned colleague has also been identified, though the police remain tightlipped. He is believed to be Tony Singh, manager of Coca-Cola's distribution in Chandigarh.
However, the focus is now shifting to the motive of the murder. While so far the line has been maintained that Manu Sharma shot Jessica after she refused to serve him alcohol at a bar at 0200 hours on Friday, April 30, questions are being raised whether this was the motive.
It is now believed that Jessica was to accompany Manu Sharma and backed out. Why she was supposed to go out with him or backed out, is still not known, and is being probed. Also, what was the nature of the party and who all were present on the night the murder took place is being looked into? All these, and other queries, are likely to be answered in the next few days.
The police are also looking into the entire setup where the murder took place and whose legality is now being checked. The Tamarind Court Cafe is owned by one of Delhi's leading socialites, Bina Ramani, who was serving alcohol without a permit to do so. Ramani is a well-connected individual.
Proof: at Tamarind Court Cafe, the night of the murder, was present a gentleman named Y S Dadwal. His designation: Joint Commissioner of Police, New Delhi.
Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police, Southern Range, Amod Kanth, under whose jurisdiction the murder took place, told Rediff On The Net that Dadwal had already been questioned and would be queried further. Kanth also said that Dadwal had clarified that he had left the place much before the murder took place.
What is clear is that it was not a farewell party for Ramani's husband as was claimed, but a pay party where anyone can walk in on paying a certain amount. There was no check which person came in.
Incidentally, this is the second time that Ramani's name has been dragged into a criminal case. Her name popped into the limelight in the Romesh Sharma case when it came out that her marriage took place at his farmhouse.
Kanth said given her status as a leading socialite, it was but natural for her to meet other high-flying persons. He added, however, the police has taken stringent action against her cafe and sought its closure. The excise department is also investigating the serving of alcohol without a legal permit.
The police are also keen to question Ramani's daughter Malani, who was a close friend of Jessica Lal. However, so far, Malani has refused to speak to the police, saying she is still recovering from the trauma.
Meanwhile, the entire Tamarind Court complex wears a deserted look. It was Ramani who set up the restaurants and curio shops, thus creating an island of wealth in this remote and desolate area in south Delhi, not far from the Qutub Minar. After the murder, there are few shoppers and all the restaurants have been ordered closed.
A lone unarmed watchman stands guard. He works on a 12-hour shift, and his colleague will do the night shift. His colleague was present on the night of the murder, but being alone, the colleague was busy tending to the parking lot. Again, why more security guards were not in place in an area frequented by Delhi's upper crust, is a moot question.
With the murder having shocked the nation and the police working overtime, most of the pieces should fall into place. Yet, Jessica's grieving relatives fear that given the high connections of the prime accused and Ramani, the truth might be swept under the carpet.
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