He was seen as an amiable, non-controversial politician, who rose from the small city of Chandigarh having just one Lok Sabha seat to become a key member of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government while still maintaining his clean image.
But railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, 64, is at the centre of a sensational ‘cash-for-post’ scandal – it is already being referred to as ‘railwaygate’ in political circles - to have hit the central government.
The scam involving alleged payment to ‘Mr Clean’’s nephew for fixing a top railway appointment has startled his party colleagues as well as his constituents here.
But to those who know this advocate-turned-politician and his family closely, the nephew’s arrest has come as no surprise. The turn in his nephew’s fortune in the past few years had already set tongues wagging in the political circles.
Besides, it is a close-knit family with the minister trusting very few people except his close relatives, according to political sources.
Brush with controversies
Though the bribery allegation is the biggest setback in his three-decade long political career, the four-time MP from Chandigarh, considered close to Congress leader Ambika Soni, has had a few controversies pertaining to land allotment and favors in the past.
Bansal and Soni were embroiled in a controversy over the allotment of a school site to their Heritage Education School in 2002.
There was an allegation that the society was given land at a throwaway price of Rs. 90 lakh against the then market rate of Rs. 50 crore by amending the existing rules. Three years ago, his name also cropped up in the booth allotment scam. UT administrator Shivraj V Patil had ordered a probe into irregularities in the allotment of over 2,500 booths during 2002-2008.
The inquiry report by Chandigarh’s former additional deputy commissioner PS Shergill had accused Bansal, along with some officials of fraudulently allotting more than 100 shopping booths in the city. While a CBI inquiry was recommended in the alleged scam involving crores of rupees, the MP had denied all charges.
His ‘turf war’ with UT administrator Gen SF Rodrigues (retd), who was also Punjab governor, had made headlines, besides bringing decision-making to a near halt in the city administration.
The journey so far
Known more for his mild manners and genial demeanour than his political manoeuvring skills, Bansal, who was made railway minister last year, had created history of sorts in 2009 by winning the Chandigarh Lok Sabha three times in a row (hat-trick). He has had his share of luck, though.
Bansal, who hails from Sangrur district in Punjab, made it to Rajya Sabha in 1984 and then won the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat in 1991.
After losing the next two parliamentary elections in 1996 and 1998, he was on the verge of losing the party ticket in 1999. Former union minister Venod Sharma had emerged as a strong contender for the Congress ticket, but he lost out after his son Manu Sharma got involved in the Jessica Lal murder case.
“Though the party leadership had decided not to field candidates who had lost the previous two elections, Bansal was given the party as an exception,” according to party sources.
He has had a comfortable journey since with his carefully-cultivated image of an accessible, down-to-earth neta working wonderfully for him.
Unlike most other railway ministers who loved to travel in customised saloons, he has been frequently travelling to Delhi on the Chandigarh-New Delhi Shatabdi Express train. But then the alleged bribery scam has the potential of derailing him.