The Congress Core Group on Tuesday discussed the import of the Supreme Court’s scathing observations on the controversial CBI affidavit in the coalgate case, and the fallout of the breakdown of communication with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Parliament, but decided to wait till May 6, when a second affidavit is filed in the apex court — the matter has been posted for May 8.
Government sources said Law Minister Ashwani Kumar’s job is safe for the moment, especially as a combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated so on Saturday, even though the Opposition continues to demand his resignation.
But that is evidently not cast in stone: top party sources said if the situation changes dramatically in the coming days, or the court gives an order that makes Mr. Kumar’s continuance untenable, then the government may be forced to rethink its position. As a Minister put it, “The situation is fluid.”
Earlier in the day, asked to comment on the Supreme Court’s observations on Mr. Kumar and officials of the PMO and the Coal Ministry being given a sneak preview of the coalgate affidavit, the Prime Minister, somewhat circumspect, said, “I'm studying the Supreme Court’s observations, and whatever action needs to be taken will be taken after that.” Echoing that, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said, “Of course, it is not a pleasant comment for any dispensation…. As far as the Supreme Court’s comments, ..the final opinion is yet to come and once it comes, an appropriate decision can be taken.”
The Core Group gathered at the Prime Minister’s residence at 7, Race Course Road, at the end of a day of fast moving events and a flurry of meetings attended by the Congress’ top leaders and parliamentary managers, even as a belligerent Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of instigating her party MPs to interrupt her in the House. Those who attended the meeting included Dr. Singh, Ms. Gandhi, her Political Secretary Ahmed Patel and Union Ministers P. Chidamabaram, A.K. Antony and Sushilkumar Shinde.
No hope on passage of Bills
With the government-BJP standoff, the Congress’ parliamentary managers are no longer hopeful of passing the food security and land acquisition Bills, the two laws that they had expected would become talking points in the next general elections. On Tuesday, they just about passed the Finance Bill and the railway budget in the Lok Sabha; with Wednesday a holiday, the government will push the two through in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
The Congress, at the party level, sought to shift attention from Mr. Ashwani Kumar to the Opposition’s non-cooperation: Party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury, responding to Ms. Swaraj’s accusations against Ms. Gandhi, described them as “uncharitable” and “unfortunate.” Attacking the BJP, she added, “We have to function in a democracy, and if this is an excuse to boycott Parliamentary proceedings then they should look for other excuses. It’s regrettable that a senior leader like Sushmaji is talking like this.” But on Mr. Kumar, she reacted cautiously, “Wait till we get the facts. I don’t think that you will then find us wanting on any issue. I am not competent .. to comment on whether the Law Minister would remain in the Cabinet. It is the Prime Minister who will take a decision. It’s an ongoing situation.”