Bansal forced to quit

Bansal forced to quit

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal resigned tonight following a directive from the Congress leadership as the government's image continued to take a severe battering over allegations of corruption.

On a day of dramatic developments, Congress President Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and it was decided that he should be asked to put in his papers to contain any further damage to the government that has already been plagued by a series of scandals.

"Yes, I have resigned," said 64-year-old Bansal emerging from a meeting with the Prime Minister, a week after his nephew was arrested for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh from a Railway Board member for a promise of promotion.

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is under attack over vetting of CBI report in the probe into coal block allocation scam, also met the Prime Minister soon after Bansal. However, it was not clear whether he has also resigned.

The Congress, which initially decided to weather the storm over Bansal and Kumar, acted to contain any further damage as more and more damning reports surfaced.
Gandhi and Singh took the decision as there was growing unease in the party that the continuance of the two ministers was eroding the credibility of the government, which has been battling scams and controversies for the last three years.

The government, which suffered a severe blow when the Railway Board scam surfaced, was further embarrassed with more media reports emerging about kin of Bansal benefiting from a public sector bank by way of loans when he was Minister of State of Finance.

A clear hint about action against Bansal came earlier in the day when Congress spokesman Bhakt Charan Das said the party will not spare anybody "mired" in corruption or manipulation.

The exit of Bansal is expected to trigger a reshuffle in the Council of Ministers over which the Congress President and the Prime Minister will meet on Sunday. The reshuffle is expected next week.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports from Bangalore that Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who lost out in race for Chief Ministership in Karnataka, told his supporters not to be disheartened because he may be given the Railway portfolio.

The course of action appears to have been decided much earlier and a clear indication of the things to come was evident at the AICC briefing.

Newly-appointed party spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das read out a written statement saying "Congress has always looked at the issue like corruption very seriously and is examining this subject also very seriously" as soon as he was asked about the fate of Bansal.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held confabulations at the latter's residence in the evening apparently to firm up a decision on the controversy surrounding Bansal and Ashwani Kumar.

The meeting was also attended by Union Ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sachin Pilot.
At the AICC briefing earlier, Das emphasized "Congress party's policy is that the party and the leadership is not going to spare anybody who is mired in corruption."

To a specific question on whether the Law Minister should resign as enough controversy surrounding his role on CBI's draft report on coal has happened, Das said tersely "what he would do, it is up to him. How can I say he should do this or that? I do not exist in the heart of Ashwani Kumar and in the mind of Ashwani Kumar."

To a question on whether he means that action will be taken against both Bansal and Kumar, he said "... anybody involved in any kind of manipulation cannot be spared. So far Ashwini Kumar is concerned, CBI and the Supreme Court are looking into the issue. It depends on the instruction of the Supreme Court."

Sources in the party also maintained the decision on Kumar's fate rests with the Prime Minister but felt that not taking a similar action against the Law Minister will create a wrong impression.

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