While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is trying to protect Law Minister Ashwani Kumar by changing his portfolio, he finds no support from Sonia Gandhi, reports Renu Mittal
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears to have given up the battle to save Pawan Kumar Bansal with sources saying it’s a matter of days before the railway minister steps down. However, the PM is keen to save Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is said to be his favourite. PM and Ashwani Kumar's supporters think that his fault is technical and there is no financial dealing involved.
The law minister is under fire for asking to vet a Central Bureau of Investigation report on its coal investigation before it was submitted to the Supreme Court, while the railway minister is caught in a controversy involving his nephew, who is under arrest for allegedly accepting bribe to organise a plum posting in the Railways.
Sources say that the PM has floated the idea of changing Kumar’s portfolio in a bid to retain him as the minister. The Prime Minister’s Office is hopeful that this will take the spotlight away from the minister, under whose leadership it is now no longer possible for the law ministry, the law officers or even the CBI to function.
There is also the very real problem that will have to be astutely handled by a law minister on how to depoliticise the CBI, as demanded by the Supreme Court. But sources say that the government is in no mood to oblige the court on this order which orders to make CBI independent of government.
Kumar has picked up the battle axe with all his colleagues and subordinates. He can no longer remain the country’s law minister, say party sources. He attended Thursday evening’s cabinet meeting, which was skipped by Bansal whose secretary Rahul Bhandari was again interrogated by the CBI, after he was questioned for four hours on Wednesday. Bhandari an Indian Administrative Service officer is also a relative of Bansal.
Kumar visited the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday but could not meet Dr Singh. However, Attorney General Vahanvati met the PM and briefed him on what he had told the court on Wednesday.
Sources say that the solution offered by Dr Singh on changing Kumar’s portfolio is finding no takers at 10 Janpath. The logic being given by Congress President Sonia Gandhi is that a transfer would send a message that the government was trying to protect Kumar even though he has been charged with tampering with the findings of an investigation on the coal scam.
The PM has signed on every coal block that had been allotted, sometimes with no application of mind as many of the allottees had no connection with coal at any level and had misused the allotments to make quick money or future investment while others misrepresented facts to get the allotments.
Dr Singh met President Pranab Mukherjee to brief him on the Budget session, which concluded on Wednesday.
There is also talk of an impending reshuffle. With the United Progressive Alliance celebrating its anniversary on May 22, the party would like to have the entire sordid mess behind them.
Party sources say that a honourable exit for the ministers during a reshuffle is also not the solution. It would just send the signal that the government is trying to camouflage the sacking of ministers by giving it a bigger garb.
Sources say that the name of senior Rajasthan leader C P Joshi is once again under consideration to take over the railway portfolio. Joshi took additional charge of the ministry last year following the exit of Trinamool Congress’s Mukul Roy. However, a few months later the PM brought in Bansal as the railway minister.
Similarly, the name of Kapil Sibal is doing the rounds for additional charge of the law ministry, having been a prominent lawyer himself. But with Kumar having created a mess and having antagonised large sections of the ministry, the government would need to bring in a seasoned and mature minister who understands the working of the legal system and would be able to boost the portfolio.
Some sections have suggested bringing back Hans Raj Bhardwaj as the law minister, but the prime minister had opposed his name when it was once mooted earlier.