The beleaguered Manmohan Singh government Friday appeared to be in
deep political crisis after the opposition demanded Law Minister
Ashwani Kumar's resignation for vetting a CBI affidavit meant only
for the Supreme Court on the coal blocks allocation.
In its two-page affidavit, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
chief Ranjit Sinha told the Supreme Court that it had "shared" its
March 8 status report on investigations into coal blocks
allocation with Ashwani Kumar and senior officials in the Prime
Minister's Office and the coal ministry.
Ashwani Kumar, the man in the eye of the storm, said he has "not
done any wrong" and "truth will prevail".
The supposedly independent CBI's disclosure could spell more
trouble for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance
government and could have ramifications for even the prime
minister, who held the coal minister's portfolio in UPA-I during
the allocation of coal blocks now under scrutiny.
The developments led to a political storm, with the Bharatiya
Janata Party and the Left parties demanding the resignation of
Ashwani Kumar and disrupting parliament over the issue. The issue
has given the opposition yet another stick with which to beat the
government, already battling a public perception of being corrupt
The government has ruled out the law minister's resignation.
Government sources said if the law minister is removed, the prime
minister could be next in the line of fire. The official auditor,
the CAG, has found large-scale irregularities in awarding
lucrative mining contracts to private companies. The contracts
covered over 100 mines across the country.
Sensing trouble, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was huddled in a
meeting with the prime minister, along with senior ministers, to
discuss the future strategy. Gandhi also held consultations with
other UPA partners to ensure the legislative business of
parliament was not affected in the rremaining two weeks of
parliament's budget session.
Finding no better way to wriggle out of the sticky situation, the
government chose to defend the law minister and buy time till
April 30 when the apex court is expected to pass an order in the
"The CBI director has clearly said that the draft report was seen
by the law minister and not the final report. There is no question
of him (Ashwani Kumar) resigning," Parliamentary Affairs Minister
Kamal Nath told reporters.
According to informed sources, Ashwani Kumar's fate hangs in the
balance till April 30, when the apex court is expected to pass an
observation on Sinha's disclosure. If it criticises the the law
minister, he may have to go.
Though it may amplify the demand for Manmohan Singh's resignation,
there was no chance of the government going, said the sources.
Highly-placed sources said that the CBI shared the status report
as it was probing the private firms which allegedly misrepresented
their information while applying for mining licenses.
"As the prime minister was then the coal minister (in UPA-I), the
CBI had to discuss the case with the Prime Minister's Office,"
The CBI director, in his affidavit said: "I submit that the draft
of the same (March 8 status report) was shared with honourable
union minister for law and justice as desired by him prior to its
submission before the honourable court."
The affidavit said that "besides the political executive, it was
also shared with one joint secretary level officer each of the
Prime Minister's Office and ministry of coal, as desired by them".
The CBI director also told the court that the investigating
agency's status report of April 26 has been personally vetted by
him and not shared with anyone, including the political executive.
Sinha promised the court that henceforth the probe's status
reports in the coal scam will not be shared with the political
Government sources said it is normal for the law minister to take
a look at any affidavit before it is filed before the court.
"The law minister is expected to concur with any affidavit before
it is submitted in a court. The idea is to ensure that the
government's views are put in the right perspective," said a
senior government official.
The opposition came down heavily on the Congress-led government,
accusing it of interfering in the CBI's work, with Leader of
Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley saying the government
has been caught with its "pants down".
Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta termed it as
"very atrocious and unprecedented".