Till Friday late afternoon, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remained defiant, refusing to sack Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal whose continuance in Government became untenable nearly a week ago after the Railgate scandal became public. Bansal’s nephew was caught red-handed by the CBI while collecting cash for top jobs in Indian Railways. Since then, a huge amount of incriminating evidence has tumbled out of Bansal’s closet.
Manmohan Singh refused to act against the tainted Minister despite mounting clamour both in the Opposition ranks and within the Congress that he should either resign or be dropped. The reason: Bansal is a Manmohan Singh loyalist. As is Law Minister Ashwani Kumar who has been found tampering with the CBI’s status report on its inquiry into the Coalgate scandal. Manmohan Singh was in charge of the Coal Ministry when the mammoth scam involving the allocation of coal blocks happened.
But by Friday evening Manmohan Singh’s defiance had crumbled into a heap of dust. Pawan Bansal has been shown the door. Ashwani Kumar has submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister as well.
Bansal’s unceremonious ouster happened after Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the Prime Minister’s residence. It was an unscheduled meeting that lasted for 20 minutes. Till that meeting, the news was Pawan Bansal would stay put as the Prime Minister was refusing to budge. There was also talk of a Cabinet reshuffle to either offer the tainted Ministers an honourable exit or shift them to other Ministries.
Within minutes of the meeting, news came that Bansal had put in his papers. ‘Top sources’ had been saying all along that Ashwani Kumar could be next.
Clearly Sonia Gandhi read out the riot act to Manmohan Singh, unequivocally letting him know that what she wanted was the Ministers out and now. That the Prime Minister chose to meekly comply serves to reiterate what is common knowledge: It is Sonia Gandhi who is the real boss.
Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal resigns
Earlier, Pawan Kumar Bansal was seen feeding a goat, which some say was sacrificed later. It is believed that the ritual was meant to ward off bad luck.
Speaking to a TV channel, Bansal appeared non-committal as to whether he was out of the Union Cabinet. "I cannot guide TV channels' reporting. I have nothing to add," he said brusquely when asked to comment on media reports that he has quit.
Bansal had on Thursday remained confined to his Ashoka Road residence and did not even attend office, with sources close to him saying he was not well.
CBI is probing allegations that Rs 90 lakh were paid to Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla by Railway Board Member (Staff) Mahesh Kumar for his appointment as Member (Electrical).
Bansal's exit 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 resuffule, expected next week, may also affect Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is also under attack over vetting of CBI report on coal block allocation. Unlike Bansal, Kumar's portfolio may be changed.
Sharad Yadav, JD(U) chief: Ashwani Kumar influenced one lakh eighty six thousand rupees' coal scam. They have not sacked the one who influenced the scam. They have sacked Pawan Kumar Bansal after the issue was raised many times. They should have done it before.
Anurag Thakur, BJYM president: Railway Minister Pawan Bansals exit must be followed by Law Minister Ashwani Kumars resignation. PM ultimately responsible for his Cabinet, must resign.
Dinesh Trivedi, Former railway Minister: We have treated Railway Ministry as a bargaining chip...You need to change the system, it is rotten... I am glad Bansal has gone but that is no guarantee that tomorrow this will not happen.