: Just seven days before the budget session commences, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday finally gave a 10-minute audience to P.J. Kurien, currently under pressure from the Opposition to step down as Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman because of his alleged involvement in the 17-year-old Suryanelli rape case in Kerala.

Prof. Kurien’s meeting with Ms. Gandhi comes a day after he called on Rajya Sabha Chairperson Hamid Ansari. On both occasions, he is believed to have repeated what he had written in his letters to them a few days ago – that the courts had exonerated him in the Suryanelli case and that he was the victim of a Left-sponsored conspiracy against him in Kerala.

Meanwhile, as speculation on whether Prof. Kurien has been asked to resign raged here, sources close to him said they had “no reason to either confirm or deny such a conclusion.” However, Congress sources did admit that till the accusations against Prof. Kurien are put to rest, it might be difficult for him to preside over the Upper House when the ordinance to check crimes against women comes up for discussion there.

Initially, Prof. Kurien, party sources said, had felt that since Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had been his lawyer in the case, the BJP would not demand his resignation. But after he gave an interview to a newspaper, pointing out that Mr. Jaitley had been his lawyer, the BJP, these sources said, was forced to join the Left Parties in demanding his resignation — making his continuance as Deputy Chairman somewhat tenuous. For the Congress, the ratification of the ordinance dealing with sexual assault is extremely important in its battle to prove its sincerity in checking crimes against women: party sources say it, therefore, cannot allow a shadow to be cast over it.

Prof. Kurien, when asked on Thursday by journalists what had transpired in his conversation with Ms Gandhi, and whether he had been asked to step down, said, “I will not comment. I will not divulge what was discussed in my meeting with the Congress president. This is not for media.”

This comes a day after he had rejected demands for his resignation.