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Pawan Kumar Bansal's fall from grace

Last updated on: May 6, 2013 09:52 IST

Pawan Kumar Bansal's fall from grace

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Anita Katyal

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal may have been quick to deny any role in Railway Board bribery scandal and ask for a thorough CBI probe. But his image as an honest man, whose integrity could not be challenged, has been demolished. Anita Katyal reports

When four-time MP from Chandigarh, Pawan Kumar Bansal was given charge of the Railway ministry in last year's cabinet reshuffle, there was unanimity in the Congress and outside that he was the right choice for this job.

The crucial infrastructure ministry, which had returned to the Congress after 17 years, was in urgent need of a leader who would be able to turn around the cash-strapped Railways.

Humble, soft-spoken and polite, he had acquired the reputation of being a hard worker who handled his portfolios with meticulous care.

And above all, he was known to be an honest man whose integrity could not be challenged.


Today, the low-key 64-year-old lawyer-turned-politician finds this carefully nurtured image in tatters after his businessman-nephew Vijay Singla was caught by the Central Bureau of Investigation while accepting a bribe of Rs 90 lakh on behalf of Railway Board member allegedly for a lucrative posting.

Bansal was quick to deny any role in this incident, distanced himself from his nephew and asked for a thorough probe into this case by the premier investigating agency. 

But the damage has already been done.

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Image: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal
Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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The opposition expectedly upped the ante against the UPA government and demanded Bansal's resignation.

After much deliberation, the Congress leadership decided to await the result of the CBI probe before taking a view on the beleaguered railway minister's fate.

Consequently, Bansal has managed to save his job for the time being but the same cannot be said about his reputation. 

Reports filtering in from his constituency Chandigarh suggest that next year's Lok Sabha election will no longer be a cakewalk as it was expected to be before this corruption scandal blew up in his face.

In fact, some suggest that Bansal may find it difficult to even contest from his long-held constituency. 

The people of Chandigarh are obviously disillusioned with their otherwise well-liked MP but they are not surprised at Singla's involvement in such a corruption scandal.

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Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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Pawan Kumar Bansal's fall from grace

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Although he has not been upfront and chooses to stay in the background, Singla is known to be Bansal's fund raiser. It is well known in Chandigarh circles that Singla's fortunes soared during Bansal's stint in power.

Congress insiders point out that despite all his other strengths, Bansal's weak spot is his family. He only trusts his wife Madhu, two sons Amit and Manish as well as his nephews Vijay and Madan Mohan Singla to manage his election campaign.

Vijay has been responsible for organising Bansal's meetings with industrialists and traders. 

Although this did irk people, Bansal survived this criticism primarily because he is seen to be a gentleman and also takes care to keep his loyalists happy by accommodating them in official in various key positions.

However, his luck might just be running out. 

Alternatively, Bansal may yet prove his detractors wrong. After all, he has been involved in controversies in the past, though not the same magnitude as the latest corruption scandal involving his nephew, and survived them all.

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Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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Bansal was once in the eye of a storm over out-of-turn allotment of land for the Delhi Public School in Chandigarh run by his son Manish while the second son Amit's pharmaceutical companies were also under a scanner.

Two years ago, his chief political rival, BJP's Satpal Jain, accused him of financial impropriety in the allotment of shopping booths. Bansal also had a run-in with then Chandigarh Administrator Gen S F Rodrigues but the railway minister always managed to come out of these controversies unscathed.

Handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi, Bansal got his first break in politics when he became a Rajya Sabha member in 1984 at the age of 36 years.

The rail minister loves to joke that he entered the House of Elders at such a young age. He has not looked back since, winning his first Lok Sabha election in 1991.

Bansal has risen steadily up the political ladder, having held the position of minister in the finance ministry, was given charge of water resources and science and technology ministries and also had a stint as Parliamentary Affairs minister.

His stay in finance ministry under the demanding but competent Finance Minister P Chidambaram, clearly prepared him for the subsequent tasks he was entrusted with.

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Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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However, his performance as Parliamentary Affairs Minister was generally considered to be below par as he was not able to establish a rapport with opposition leaders and ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament even though Bansal's association with the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj goes back to their student days in Panjab University. 

Despite this, he was chosen to head the cash-strapped Railway ministry by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi who have always reposed immense faith in him.

In fact, Bansal's proximity to the two leaders ensured that he was not sacked after his name was dragged into the corruption scandal involving his nephew.

There is no doubt that Bansal tackled his new responsibility with great zeal and enthusiasm.

Making himself scarce, he buried himself in files as he went about the task of ushering in reforms and modernising the railways.

Despite his busy schedule, Bansal always made time for his constituency, taking the Shatabadi train every Friday to Chandigarh where he spends the week-end meeting people and redressing their grievances.

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Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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He continued to travel by the Shatabadi train even after he took over as rail minister. 

Like other rail ministers, Bansal did not lag behind in pampering his constituency. His appointment as railway minister proved to be especially lucky for Chandigarh residents as Bansal introduced a new Shatabadi Express train connection to New Delhi in addition to two existing ones.

He also ordered a major facelift of the Chandigarh rail station and announced a host of new connections in the northern region which was invariably overlooked by previous ministers.

As the controversy over his nephew ages on, Bansal will be hoping that the residents of Chandigarh will not allow this scandal to take away their attention from all the work he has done for the constituency when they line up to cast their vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

It is clearly a do-or-die battle for the embattled minister who has less than a year to retrieve his reputation


Photographs: Courtesy Press Information Bureau

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