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Have corruption charges finally reached the PM?

April 27, 2013 11:59 IST

Congress leaders, who don’t like Ashwani Kumar's way of doing things, believe that the minister should remain in the cabinet to act as a buffer between the PM and the opposition, says Renu Mittal
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his protégé Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar  are in the eye of a storm over allegations about the government trying to ‘influence’ the Central Bureau of Investigation’s report to the Supreme Court on the coal-gate scam.

The question being asked in political circles is whether corruption charges have reached the doorstep of the PM and the Prime Minister’s Office, as Kumar is known to be extremely close to Dr Singh and his family.

Congress sources say the PM is resisting the resignation of Kumar and is going all out to protect him.

Kumar landed in trouble after the CBI admitted before the Supreme Court, through an affidavit, that the draft status report on coal-gate was shared with the “political executive” as desired by the law minister, and was also shown to PMO officials.
CBI Director Ranjit Sinha has been silent on whether the minister asked him to make changes in the report, as there are unconfirmed reports that there were heated exchanges between Kumar and Sinha over the issue in the presence of many people.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to look at the affidavit on Tuesday.

If the court passes a stricture against Kumar, the government will have no option but to ask for his resignation.

But so far, the central government has backed the law minister and not yielded to the opposition’s demand for his arrest.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has stated that Dr Singh will have to answer whether the PMO was trying to influence the CBI to act according to its diktat.

Congress leaders, who don’t like Kumar's way of doing things, believe that the minister should remain in the cabinet to act as a buffer between the PM and the opposition.

Without him, the opposition’s attacks would be directly focused on Dr Singh.
According to sources, Kumar is disliked by almost everyone, including senior officials of his own ministry, due to his offensive behaviour.

Former chiefs of CBI have vetted drafts and status reports in the past and have met Union law ministers frequently, but that has never been a problem as it is part of practical and applied politics.

Kumar’s brazen behaviour appears to have been behind his undoing.
Former law minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj was known to handle the CBI and other sensitive matters with great finesse.

Both hypocrisy and secrecy is a necessary tool in running the CBI, so much so that though the CBI filed a closure report in the open Patiala House court regarding Bofors scam prime accused Ottavio Quattrochi in September 2008, the media got wind of it only in April 2009.

The BJP has declared that Parliament will not run till the resignations of the prime minister and law ministers are tendered. For good measure, they have also demanded the resignation of Joint Parliamentary Committee Chairman P C Chacko.

When Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath met BJP patriarch L K Advani to begin discussions on ending the current impasse, he was asked to meet Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.

The PM and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have called a meeting of the United Progressive Alliance and its allies to discuss the continuous disruptions in Parliament. Important financial business needs to be conducted during the budget session and the UPA’s key bills, over food security and land acquisition, have to be passed.

Meanwhile, Chacko has indicated that he is agreeable to altering the content of the draft report on the 2G scam since the BJP is particularly agitated about references to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, without directly naming him, in the report.

And as far as Kumar is concerned, a Supreme Court bench would decide his fate on Tuesday, but the whole issue has given the UPA a bad name, and sent out the inadvertent message that the CBI was being used to save the neck of certain politicians who were handling the entire issue of allocation of coal blocs without adequate attention or due diligence.

Renu Mittal