Tandoori murder case a rival for O J Simpson case

Police claim Sharma stuffed wife's body into the oven


New Delhi - Few Indians have heard of O J Simpson but anyone who reads an Indian newspaper has heard of Sushil Sharma.

Mr Sharma is accused of a gruesome crime dubbed the "Tandoori Murder". A tandoor is a deep earthen oven used since Mogul times in north Indian cooking. On the night of 2 July, the body of Mr Sharma's dismembered wife, Naina Sahni, was discovered propped up inside a flaming tandoori oven in a New Delhi restaurant.

The grisly nature of the crime, which Mr Sharma says he did not commit, was enough in itself to capture the headlines.

But Mr Sharma's political stature - as a rising star in the ruling Congress party - and his efforts to implicate political rivals have turned the incident into a cause celebre.

Given the intense media glare, the tandoori case has been compared to the O J Simpson double-murder trial in Los Angeles. Sunday magazine drew comparisons between Mr Simpson and Mr Sharma, head of Youth Congress in New Delhi. Both accused were known to be jealous. Both allegedly abused their wives. Both left the cities where the crimes were committed shortly after the victims were killed. And both have lawyers who claim their clients were framed by police.

But there could be a crucial difference. "As the trial has gone on, it has become clear that many Americans want O J Simpson to be acquitted," Sunday said. "In India, however, the clamour is to hang Sushil Sharma."

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intends to try to make political hay out of the scandal. "I don't think this is an isolated incident," BJP general secretary K L Sharma said. "This is the culture being pursued by the Youth Congress."

The police charge sheet against Mr Sharma sketches out the gut-wrenching details of Naina Sahni's final moments, a senior police official said.

Police claim that Mr Sharma returned to his flat, checking to see if his wife had been in contact with her alleged lover. He pushed a button on the telephone which automatically redialled the last number called.

When Mr Sharma discovered that the last call had been to the man's home, he allegedly went into a rage, shooting Sahni twice with his Armenius .32 calibre revolver, the police say.

The charge sheet says that after wrapping the body in a plastic table- cloth and a bedsheet, Mr Sharma went to the Bagiya restaurant and with the help of a worker, stuffed the corpse into the tandoori oven. Police later found it charred beyond recognition.

When he was arrested 10 days later in southern India, his head shaved, Mr Sharma said he had left Delhi on a pilgrimage. He is now in judicial custody awaiting a trial date.