Railway Minister Pawan Bansal’s continuance in office seemed uncertain late on Saturday night. A decision, either way, say Congress sources, is expected either on Sunday evening or before Parliament opens on Monday, but after polling for the Karnataka elections ends on Sunday.
The Congress Core Group met in New Delhi on Saturday and heard Mr. Bansal’s explanation following the arrest of his nephew, Vijay Singla, for accepting a hefty bribe for the promotion of a senior railway officer to the Railway Board. It is likely to meet again on Sunday to take a final view.
At Saturday’s meeting, the Congress sources said, Mr. Bansal did not offer to resign as he stressed that he had no business links with his nephew nor had he ever been influenced by him in decision-making.
Meanwhile, faced with the demand for a second ministerial head in less than two weeks — this time over a bribery charge — the Congress initially buried its head in the sand, with party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi rejecting the Opposition's demand for the Railway Minister’s resignation, saying it had become a “disease” of the Opposition to make such demands. He added that Mr. Bansal has himself given a clarification and sought an investigation into the matter.
As the party’s integrity quotient took another hit, its leadership which has not yet satisfactorily dealt with the case of Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, accused by the Opposition of trying to influence the coalgate investigations, first tried to give Mr. Bansal the benefit of the doubt. But with the Opposition demands growing shriller, the Congress leadership on Saturday night appeared to be veering round to the view that it needed to act, but the timing of Mr. Singla’s arrest made it more difficult, as it came two days before the Karnataka elections which the party is hoping to win.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bansal met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Apart from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Singh, senior leaders Ahmad Patel, A.K. Antony, Sushilkumar Shinde and P. Chidambaram are members of the Core Group.
Mr. Vijay Singla was arrested on Friday by the CBI, which also held Makesh Kumar, a Member of the Railway Board, in connection with the alleged payment of Rs. 90 lakh for arranging a top-level position in the government.
Meanwhile, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the seeking of pecuniary advantage by someone close to the Railway Minister and abusing the authority of the Minister was a “copybook case” for invoking the Prevention of Corruption Act. The CPI(M), too, has demanded his resignation.
Mr. Bansal, however, distanced himself from his nephew, saying he had no business links with him and denied any wrongdoing.
But the Congress sources pointed out that Mr. Singla was Mr. Bansal’s constituency manager.
Mahesh Kumar suspended
Late at night, Mr. Mahesh Kumar was suspended. “Following the receipt of the official report from the CBI, the Ministry of Railways places Mahesh Kumar, Member (Staff), under suspension,” Additional Director-General of Railways, Public Relations, Anil Saxena, told PTI .