The Railgate taint may have cost him his cabinet berth but former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal is not facing much heat over it in the four-cornered contest with three women candidates, two of them Bollywood celebs, in the high-stakes battle for Chandigarh. Coming face-to-face for a debate for the first time at Candidatetalk @ HT programme of Hindustan Times here on Friday, Kirron Kher of the BJP and Gul Panag of the Aam Aadmi Party confronted the Congress MP over various issues concerning Chandigarh but steered clear of directly attacking Bansal over corruption or Railgate.
On her silence on Railgate during the poll campaign, Kher said Railgate was a national issue but she would not personalise the poll battle by raking it. “I would like to fight the elections with dignity. There is enough to attack the Congress and Bansal on the administrative front,” she said. On her party going after Bansal on the controversy, she said, “I am Kirron Kher of the BJP but I have my own mind.” However, in sharp contrast to Kher's stand, former BJP MP Satya Pal Jain, one of the ticket contenders, challenged Bansal to an open debate on Railgate.
On her playing down corruption, the main poll plank of AAP, actor Gul Panag said corruption is an issue in the Chandigarh polls but she would like to take on Bansal on development and other local issues. “I do not want to personally name Bansal on Railgate. Though I do believe that as minister in charge, it was either incompetence or complicity on the minister's part,” she said.
On whether Railgate had hit his image, Bansal admitted it had. “But there is also a lot of empathy and sympathy among people for me. I have worked assiduously for 40 years to build a reputation and it cannot be damaged merely on presumptive guilt,” he said. On the lessons learnt from the controversy and if he still trusts his extended family more than party workers, Bansal said there are no lessons learnt or un-learnt. “But it has taught me that anything can happen in life and you can become vulnerable at times. As for my family, I have an extended family of 500 people in Chandigarh. Should I disown them? I do trust them still and they are my biggest strength,” he said.
More eager than ill at ease while talking about the controversy, Bansal said he was interrogated for six long hours by the CBI and not an iota of truth was found in the charges against him.