Even as Congress leaders made it clear that the fate of Pawan Kumar Bansal would depend on the direction of the CBI probe, there are indications that the breather could protect the railways minister under the single directive reintroduced by the NDA in 2003.
The single directive - incorporated into the Central Vigilance Act 2003 - bars the CBI from probing any government functionary of the rank of joint secretary and above without the government's permission.
CBI sources said investigators did not need this sanction in trap cases but weren't sure if this would apply to Bansal, who hasn't been linked to the Rs 90 lakh bribe, so far. "It could depend on how the provisions of the corruption case are interpreted," a government functionary said.
Senior Congress leaders, however, said that "the chapter is not closed yet," and that, "the leadership has not given a clean-chit to anyone."
The two Uttar Pradesh parties - Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - however were divided on the issue.
SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav demanded Bansal's resignation for the sake of ongoing investigations.
"It is a serious matter and Bansal should have resigned. The government is trying to protect him but he would have to go," he said.
But BSP chief Mayawati said it was "not appropriate" to seek his resignation before the CBI files a final report on the issue. "CBI should not prolong its probe in this case and keep its report before the nation as soon as possible," she said.
Incidentally, if the minister continues to hold the post, he might end up playing a key role in evaluating the probe to decide if the CBI should be allowed to prosecute railway board member Mahesh Kumar.