Dropping of P K Bansal and Ashwani Kumar from the Union Cabinet was the "joint decision" of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the Congress said on Sunday dismissing reports that the action was at the insistence of the party president.
"It has appeared in a section of the media that it was at the insistence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi that the two Ministers were dropped. This perception is not correct.
"The correct position is that it was the joint decision of the Congress president and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," party General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said. The statement of Dwivedi, who is the All India Congress Committee media departmen chief, is significant as reports had suggested that Bansal and Kumar, two Cabinet members seen to be close to the prime minister, were made to resign by him late on Friday last after the Congress President expressed her displeasure over their continuance in office.
Citing the reports, Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani took a dig at the prime minister, saying he should now call it a day as he appeared to have "abdicated" his right to decide on his Cabinet.
"Has the prime minister abdicated his right even to decide about his own Cabinet? News reports about the removal of two Union ministers generally emphasise that, it is Soniaji who has sacked 'two PM’s men'.
"Sheer self-respect demands that the PM calls it a day, and orders an early general election," Advani wrote on his blog post.
The reports had it that in a meeting with Singh, Gandhi was understood to have conveyed the party's unease over the public perception against the government for not acting against Bansal and Kumar, who held the railway and law ministry portfolios respectively.
Bansal resigned on Friday following the arrest of his nephew Vijay Singla last week for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh for fixing promotion in Railway Board while Kumar quit in the wake of a raging controversy over his vetting the Central Bureau of Investigation probe report in the coal block allocations scam.
The issue led to the washout of the second half of the budget session with the Opposition demanding the PM's resignation and the sacking of the law minister.