Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Congress’ first railway minister in more than a decade, was barely hanging on as the CBI clearly indicated on Saturday that it was investigating his role in the railway bribery case that has led to the arrest of his nephew and six others.
Bansal is learnt to have offered his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who asked him to wait till the Congress leadership took a final view.
The minister denied any wrongdoing and distanced himself from nephew Vijay Singla, arrested late Friday for receiving Rs. 90 lakh from now-suspended railway officer Mahesh Kumar to allegedly fix a top post on the railway board for him.
The deal was allegedly fixed at Rs. 2 crore and Rs. 90 lakh was the first installment.
“Though a close relative, he (Singla) or any other relative of mine does not and can’t meddle in my official function or influence my decision. There is also no business relationship between his and my family,” Bansal said.
But a CBI investigator begged to differ, saying: “Only the railway minister could ensure lucrative postings… Only he has the authority to decide the job promised by his nephew.”
“He has given a clarification and sought a thorough probe. I don’t think we can expect anything more from him,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said in Bansal’s defence.
Remanding Singla and three other accused in four-day CBI custody, a Delhi court said it was necessary to find the “actual beneficiaries” and other conspirators.
In the evening, Bansal was called to a meeting of the Congress core group and asked to explain his position. No decision on his continuance was taken.
However, a section in the party is of the view that his position as rail minister has become untenable since the bribery case involves his nephew.
It also comes at a time when the UPA is facing heat over a series of corruption scandals. Bansal is the second cabinet minister to come in the Opposition's line of fire after law minister Ashwani Kumar, accused of interference in the CBI probe into Coalgate.
The BJP demanded Bansal's scalp.
"The Congress has reduced the government to a bazaar where every decision is tradable. It’s a shocking and distressing state of affairs," said Ravi Shankar Prasad.
But Dwivedi shot back: "For those demanding resignation, it has become a disease."