It was the night of the long knives at 7, Race Course Road. In a most dramatic finale to a Friday full of open-ended speculation, both the Union Ministers - Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar - who were seen to be bringing infamy to the UPA had to face the guillotine after a stern execution order was issued by the Congress. Railway Minister Bansal and Law Minister Kumar, both from Punjab, were embroiled in two very different cases, with vastly different implications of guilt.
But in a nervy endgame, they were swooped up together in a seamless swirl of allegations that were connected by buzzwords like corruption, the CBI, impropriety and proximity to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The damage being caused by dilly-dallying was finally deemed too much, and they were seen fit to be sacrificed on the political chessboard. This was preceded by days of speculation on whether it was better to axe the ministers to save the UPA’s face or to brazen it out. The Congress, keen to put up a show of “ethical cleansing”-and it was no more-after its win in Karnataka on the issue of corruption, seemed to have prevailed on the PM, who was reportedly keen to dig his heels in, despite attack from the opposition, especially BJP.
Hectic confabulations at 7 RCR preceeded the resignations, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other Congress bigwigs arriving to hammer out the best course of action. All of Friday, it was Bansal - the first Congressman to hold the railway portfolio in 17 years - who was said to be the one going to resign. After days of clinging despite what seemed like an open-and-shut case, Bansal’s fate was sealed when juicy speculation about directly incriminating taped conversations began buzzing around Delhi’s political and media circles.
The situation with Ashwani Kumar was more complicated and technical, with institutional matters like the government’s oversight on the CBI more the issue than direct venality. But once the decision about Bansal was made, it suddenly turned into a double bill. The final rites were gone through fast.
Soon after Bansal said he had resigned, Ashwani also met the Prime Minister and submitted his resignation. The PMO spokesman said their resignations are being forwarded to the President.