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Bansal's stay in Cabinet hangs in balance

Last updated on: May 4, 2013 21:49 IST

Bansal's stay in Cabinet hangs in balance

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Railway Minister P K Bansal's continuance in the Union Cabinet hung in balance on Saturday night as the Congress and the government received a fresh battering in the wake of the arrest of his nephew on the charge of accepting bribe to fix plum position in the Railway Board.

As demands for Bansal's removal and prosecution mounted, the Congress Core Group headed by Sonia Gandhi inconclusively met at the residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who called and talked to the minister earlier in the day.  

Sources said Bansal did not offer to resign and in the Core Group meeting he explained his position claiming that he had no business links with his nephew nor did he get influenced by him in decision-making.

A meeting of the Core Group could take place on Sunday for a possible decision on the issue before Parliament resumes on Monday. Senior ministers A K Antony, Sushilkumar Shinde, Gandhi's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel were also present along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.

Senior party sources said that even at the Core Group meeting there was no offer by Bansal to resign. A decision on his continuance or not may be taken at Sunday's meeting of the Core Group, they said.

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Bansal's stay in Cabinet hangs in balance

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On his part, Bansal distanced himself from his nephew Vijay Singla, who was arrested by CBI on Friday night for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh for fixing a better position for Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar.

In a statement, 64-year-old Bansal, who was made Railway Minister in October last year, claimed he has always observed the highest standards of probity in public life and that nobody can influence his decisions. He also sought an expeditious CBI inquiry into the issue.

Interestingly, the AICC also appeared to back him with party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi brushing demands for Bansal's resignation saying it has become a "disease" for the Opposition to make such demands.

Notwithstanding the party general secretary's statement, the development involving Bansal has come as a shock and surprise in Congress circles as he had a clean and non-controversial image.

It has also come at a most troubled time when the UPA government has been at the receiving end over the Coalgate issue in which Law Minister Ashwini Kumar's fate also hangs by a thread, depending on the Supreme Court proceedings next week.

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Bansal's stay in Cabinet hangs in balance

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Sunday's Congress Core Group meeting at the end of Karnataka assembly elections could make the party assess the damage on allowing Bansal to continue in the government or to brazen out the issue, analysts say.

Gunning for Bansal, BJP demanded his "sacking" and "prosecution". Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said Bansal is not only morally responsible but "criminally responsible" in the issue.

"It is a cash-and-carry government which has lost all moral authority to remain in power," he said.

Jaitley's party colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad said the latest corruption charges in the government further "reinforces" their demand for the Prime Minister's resignation.

"This government is no more a government of common man but a government of dealers, brokers and middlemen, where every government decision is up for sale and you must be prepared to offer the price.

"Congress has reduced the government to a bazaar where every decision is tradeable. This is very shocking and distressing state of affair," Prasad said.

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CPI-M also demanded the Prime Minister should ask the Railway Minister to resign.

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O' Brien called the incident "retail bribery" as the scam had fewer zeroes.

Seeking Bansal's resignation on moral grounds, UPA ally Samajawadi Party said corrupt leaders should be suspended.

"The Prime Minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi need to realise that it is the Railway Minister's nephew who has been arrested with Rs 90 lakh. Bansal should resign on moral grounds. Leaders who are corrupt should be suspended," said SP national general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha.

NDA ally JD-U, however, surprisingly backed Bansal, with party President Sharad Yadav virtually absolving the Congress leader of any fault in the case.

"If any relative of a political leader is involved in corruption, then what is the fault of that leader? I have known Pawan Bansal for a long time. He has been in Parliament for a long time. What has he to do with anything if his nephew is taking bribe?" Yadav told reporters.




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