All set to field scam-tainted Pawan Kumar Bansal as its candidate from the Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress is taking a calculated gamble to brazen it out on the corruption allegations against the four-time MP, who had to resign ignominiously as the union railway minister in the wake of the CBI-busted Railgate scandal last year.
The ticket would mean a political resurrection for Bansal (65), who will be testing his electoral fortunes in the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana for a record fifth term in the Lok Sabha.
Bansal’s likely re-nomination is sure to provoke the BJP to make much noise about his brush with the `90-crore bribery scam in which his nephew Vijay Singla has been charged as the prime accused.
What apparently has turned the dice in favour of Bansal was that the CBI, months before the Lok Sabha elections, had cleared him in the scam, while making him a prosecution witness. Though Bansal had failed to stage a comeback in the Manmohan Singh government, the CBI reprieve did help him redeem his political career.
Also, while mulling its choice for Chandigarh, the Congress’ central election committee was confronted with TINA (there is no alternative) factor as none of the other four applicants, most of them Bansal’s acolytes, measured up to his stature. So, it is learnt, the ‘tried-and-tested’ MP emerged as the best bet for Chandigarh, which goes to the polls on April 10. Bansal had won the seat in 2009 by 58,976 votes.
The high command gave the first positive signal for Bansal six weeks ago when it made him in-charge of the party’s candidate screening committee in the key states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The MP, who had been lying low after he had to resign from the cabinet in May last year, lost no time in intensifying his political activities in the union territory after the last Parliament session got over on February 21.
Local Congress leaders, who had openly opposed Bansal’s candidature and applied for the ticket, also sensed the high command’s mood and quickly withdrew their names and patched up with the MP.
A lawyer-turned-politician, Bansal had scored a smooth electoral hat-trick in 2009 and emerged as a key member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s team. Bansal had everything going for him, with no serious challenge from the rival BJP or within his party — till the railway scam happened.
Congress leader and former Chandigarh mayor Ravinder Pal Singh said, “From day one, we knew about Bansal’s candidature and we hope that he will win by a thumping majority. We have chalked out a plan to cover the entire city, and will hold meeting public meetings and a door-to-door campaign in support of Bansal.”
On the railway scam, Pardeep Chhabra, spokesperson for the Chandigarh Territorial Congress Committee, said, “Bansal became a victim of circumstances. We all knew he would come clean. In fact, Bansal has gained public sympathy.”
However, BJP leader and former MP Satya Pal Jain said, “Rahul Gandhi talks of fighting corruption and gives tickets to those who are facing serious allegations of corruption. People of Chandigarh will give a befitting reply to the Congress by defeating Bansal by a resounding majority.”