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The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"It's still not clear whether the police will actually arrest the Shiv Sena leader"
 real 28k

Sunday, 23 July, 2000, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Indian law minister resigns
Shiv Sena militants
Shiv Sena militants: Tension has been high in Bombay
India's Law Minister Ram Jethmalani, who resigned from the cabinet on Sunday, has blamed the country's attorney-general.

"I cannot exist in the cabinet with an attorney-general like this," Mr Jethmalani told Indian news agency PTI

"Right from the day I became the law minister, he had started giving pinpricks."

Bal Thackeray
Bal Thackeray: Accused of inflammatory writings
Mr Jethmalani resigned following a dispute over the prosecution of a right-wing Hindu leader, Bal Thackeray.

Mr Thackeray faces charges of writing inflammatory editorials during the 1992-93 Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay in which more than 1,000 people died. He is being prosecuted in the western state of Maharashtra.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee accepted the minister's resignation and passed it on to the president for approval, said Mr Vajpayee's spokesman.

Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, however, has denied he had anything to do with the minister's resignation.

"Jethmalani knows the reasons for his resignation," Mr Sorabjee told PTI. "He did not require my help for his exit from the ministry."

Legal battle

The Supreme Court had on Friday adjourned its hearing of the case against Mr Thackeray, and given the federal government six weeks to provide more information about its position on the issue.

It asked the federal government to clarify its stand on statements made by Mr Jethmalani in defence of Mr Thackeray, leader of the militant Hindu Shiv Sena party.

The minister's response was that he had said nothing wrong and that he understood the law of the land well enough as an experienced lawyer.

According to Indian press reports, Mr Vajpayee had called on Mr Jethmalani to resign to avoid embroiling the government in the escalating row between the minister and the Supreme Court.

While the federal government has said it has no role to play in the prosecution initiated by Maharashtra, Mr Jethmalani has argued that New Delhi has the right to intervene.

Mr Jethmalani was elected to India's upper house with Shiv Sena support.

Tension

Tension has been high in Bombay since Saturday, when the state government said it was planning to arrest and prosecute Mr Thackeray for his role in the 1992-93 unrest, which erupted after Hindu extremists destroyed a mosque in Ayodhya.

Mr Thackeray's party is in the federal government and closely allied to Prime Minister Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BBC's Bombay correspondent says that if the BJP supports the Maharashtra government action it risks antagonising one of its oldest allies.

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See also:

21 Jul 00 | South Asia
Bombay riot incitement case adjourned
20 Jul 00 | South Asia
Authorities firm on arrest threat
15 Jul 00 | South Asia
Hindu militant faces court
28 Jul 99 | South Asia
Poll ban for Hindu leader
06 Dec 99 | South Asia
Protest over Ayodhya anniversary
19 Jul 00 | South Asia
Profile: The 'tiger' of Bombay
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