Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and Union Surface Transport Minister C. P. Joshi were given additional charge of law and railway portfolios, respectively, on Saturday, a day after the incumbents Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal were sacked.
This comes ahead of a possible reshuffle of the Union council of ministers — likely the last one — before the general elections slated for next year. This may take place, party sources said, along with some promised changes in the party organisation before the UPA celebrates its ninth anniversary in power later this month on May 22.
For the Congress — especially Lok Sabha MPs — the exit of Mr. Kumar and Mr. Bansal came as a great relief as with each passing day, the credibility of the government and the party was dipping.
Indeed, on Friday, new Congress spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das — even as he was being grilled by journalists on the fate of the two ministers — sought to keep the focus on the Food Security Bill that the opposition did not permit the government to pass in the budget session just gone by.
Mr. Das repeatedly pointed out that while corruption was an issue that the party would deal with firmly — as it did a few hours later by seeking the resignations of Mr.Kumar and Mr. Bansal — ensuring food security, something of far greater consequence, could not be done without the assistance of opposition parties in Parliament.
Meanwhile, even as a deeply embarrassed Mr. Bansal kept his counsel, Mr. Kumar continued to stress his innocence on Saturday.
Putting up a brave face, he claimed at a press conference that he quit to end an “unnecessary” controversy. He maintained that the Supreme Court had made no adverse comments against him in the case of the vetting of a CBI probe report on Coalgate. He told journalists that resignation does not imply “wrongdoing”.
“Yesterday I tendered my resignation to the honourable Prime Minister while thanking him for giving me the opportunity to be a part of his team,” he said.
Asked whether he had been made a scapegoat, Mr. Kumar merely said, “People of this country, my friends who stood by me, many of you in the media and my esteemed colleagues in the profession know me for what I am. I would rather let them make a judgment.”