The Congress on Sunday decided to stand by railway and law ministers Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar, at the centre of scams that have rocked the UPA, and ruled out their immediate resignations under Opposition pressure.
The unanimous decision to wait for the outcome of the CBI probe into the railway bribery case involving Bansal’s nephew and the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday in the coal scam involving Kumar was taken at a two-hour meeting of the Congress core committee, attended among others by party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Mamohan Singh.
“As far as the rail minister is concerned, a probe is underway. He has welcomed it. We can’t pre-judge till the investigation is over,” information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said.
At the core committee meeting, the second in 24 hours, the top leadership is understood to have discussed political implications and Bansal’s clarification before deciding to wait for the CBI probe to be over.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath and minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy were asked for their views on how various parties would react on Railgate and whether allegations against Bansal were serious.
The view that emerged at the meeting was that even if Bansal resigned, the Opposition would not let up and insist on the resignations of the PM and law minister. It was also thought best to let the investigation unfold and act only if Bansal is proven guilty — thereby avoiding a repeat of the Ashok Chavan case, where the Maharashtra CM was asked to step down over the Adarsh housing scam but a probe panel later exonerated him.
The CBI had on Friday booked Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla for having allegedly accepted a R90-lakh bribe on behalf of senior railway official Mahesh Kumar, in exchange for a promise to get him a lucrative post in the department.
The agency made another arrest in the case on Sunday, taking the number of accused to 10. A Delhi court also remanded three more arrested accused in CBI custody till May 7.
Bansal has maintained ignorance of Singla's dealings.
On Ashwani Kumar, facing allegations of alleged interference in the CBI probe into the coal blocks allocation scam, Tewari said: "The matter is sub judice (pending in court). It will come up on May 8."
Ashwani Kumar has maintained that as law minister, it is his duty to advise all departments and it is up to them to accept or ignore his advice.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi made the most of another opportunity to attack the UPA government, accusing it of being concerned only about "nephews and uncles".
He also tweeted: "After 17 years, Congress gets the railway ministry and what results is a scam. Does anyone still have any doubts that the Congress is the problem."
His BJP colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "When a minister from an ally of the UPA is found involved in corruption, he is immediately sacked, but when a Congress minister indulges in corruption, no action is taken."
The day also saw BJP students' wing activists demonstrate outside Bansal's residences both in the Capital and Chandigarh. There was heavy police deployment at both places and in Chandigarh, police rounded up two of the protesters and used mild force to disperse the crowd, officials said.