After going into huddle for two consecutive days, the Congress decided on Sunday to reject the demand for the resignation of Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who are in the eye of a political storm.
Leaving no scope for any suspense even among its rank and file, the party fielded Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari to make a formal announcement on why it believed that the Opposition had no case for seeking the resignation.
According to a senior leader, the party had little choice but to back the two Ministers as conceding the demand — at least in the case of Mr. Ashwani Kumar — would lead to the doors of the Prime Minister’s Office as the CBI affidavit to the Supreme Court on the coalgate was also shown to a senior officer in Manmohan Singh’s secretariat.
By deciding to back the Ministers, the party managers have effectively sealed the prospect of any business in the remaining part of the budget session of Parliament, which ends on May 9.
The Congress will now bank on the outcome of the Karnataka Assembly elections — in which the party is expected to fare well — to counter the aggressive Opposition campaign that UPA-II is the most corrupt and inept government since Independence.
At a hurriedly convened press conference at his residence, Mr. Tewari outlined the logic behind the decision. He almost suggested that those who were demanding their ouster were talking through their hat. As for Mr. Bansal, Mr. Tewari argued that it was “inappropriate” to pre-judge the charge when the investigation was under way.
The Railway Minister is in trouble after his nephew Vijay Singla was arrested by the CBI on Friday for allegedly accepting Rs. 90 lakh for fixing a better position for Railway Board Member Mahesh Kumar, who has been suspended.
“Unfortunately, there are two parallel processes in the case. One is being played out in public domain and the other by investigating agencies. After all the charge sheet has to be filed in a court of law,” Mr. Tewari said.
As for the Law Minister, who is at the centre of a row after it emerged that he had asked the CBI to show him the affidavit on the coalgate, which was meant to be shown only to the Supreme Court, Mr. Tewari said the matter was sub judice . “The CBI would submit its case to the Supreme Court on May 6, and if my information is right, it will come up for hearing on May 8. If the government of India has anything to articulate, it will do so through its law officers…”
Earlier in the day, Congress president Sonia Gandhi held consultations with Defence Minister A.K. Antony, ahead of the Congress Core Group meeting. The Group met on Saturday at the residence of Dr. Singh and heard the Railway Minister out.