Within hours of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi meeting Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh Friday evening, the UPA government asked two
tainted cabinet members – Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar – to go, sending out a signal that no
wrongdoing will be tolerated.
The Congress, which successfully snatched Karnataka from the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the anti-corruption plank, took
the decision as it did not want to send out a wrong signal by
showing the party was soft on corruption, a party source said.
With the BJP, which did not allow the parliament to run, adamant
on the resignation of both the ministers, Gandhi met the prime
minister this evening at his official residence.
Later, Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Health and
Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad also met the prime
minister, said the source.
The first to go was Bansal, who was under a cloud after his nephew
was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for
accepting a bribe of Rs.90 lakh for getting a plum Railway Board
post to a senior official.
“Yes, I have resigned,” Bansal told reporters after leaving the
prime minister’s residence.
A little later, Ashwani Kumar, under fire for interfering in a CBI
probe into the coal blocks allocation, met the prime minister and
handed over his resignation.
In his resignation letter, Ashwani Kumar said it was “to put an
end to the controversy of public perception of wrong doing,”.
He may be moved to a less significant ministry, said sources.
The resignations have been forwarded to President Pranab Mukherjee
for his approval.
Besides the two ministers, the BJP has been demanding the
resignation of the prime minister himself also as he headed the
coal ministry for a duration in UPA I.
Labour Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge, who was in the running for
Karnataka chief minister, is tipped to be the next railway
minister. The name of Surface Transport Minister C.P. Joshi, who
held the railway portfolio briefly before Bansal, was also being
considered, said the sources.
The indication that Bansal’s fate was sealed came Friday afternoon
when Congress spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das told reporters: “We
will not tolerate if anybody is found mired in corruption.”
Bansal was asked to resign after reports that he had sought divine
help (feeding a goat) to save himself, irked the Congress
leadership, said the sources.
Both Bansal and Ashwani Kumar remained in office for around six
The BJP termed the resignations a delayed step.
“This is a delayed step. Had the ministers resigned a few days
ago, the time of parliament would not have been wasted,” BJP
spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said.
“The Congress does not take any decision on moral grounds,” he
Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said Bansal should have
resigned when parliament was in session, which would have allowed
legislative business to take place.