The beleaguered UPA Government suffered its hardest punch as the latest bribery allegations not only threatened to tarnish Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s unblemished track record, but also created a new controversy on the eve of the Karnataka polls.
Bansal’s nephew Vijay Singla, who is also seen as his constituency manager and a familiar figure in his entourage in Chandigarh, was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe of `90 lakhs from newly-inducted Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar.
A distraught Bansal, who rushed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 7 Race Course Road residence and offered to resign, had first reacted in a written statement: “Regarding yesterday’s incident involving my sister’s son in a CBI raid at Chandigarh, I have to say that I had no knowledge or clue about the matter at all. Though a close relative, he or any other relative of mine does not and cannot meddle in my official functions or influence my decisions. There is also no business relationship between his and my families.”
“I’ve always observed highest standards of probity in public life and look forward to an expeditious investigation by the CBI in the matter.”
Later in the evening, the Railway ministry issued another statement saying that no officer senior to Mahesh had been superseded. According to the ministry, Mahesh was the senior-most eligible officer as his performance records met the necessary performance criteria and he had got the mandatory Central Vigilence Commission clearance. Referring to the reports that Mahesh was trying for a higher post (member- electrical) on the board, the statement said no such post is vacant at present. When confronted by reporters, Bansal refused to say anything further.
Bansal once again offered his defence during the Congress core group meeting in the evening.
Smelling a perfect opportunity to discredit a man considered close to Manmohan, the Opposition demanded his scalp.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said in Chandigarh, “The rail promotion corruption case is an open and shut case. The man who was to be promoted got promoted on May 1 and he delivered the remainder of the bribe to the Bansal-appointed person, who is also his so called constituency manager and who has been caught red handed with a Rs 90 lakh bribe. This payment is a part of the agreed amount. The total deal was fixed for Rs 5 crore.”