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Nitish offers to quit, PM declines

New Delhi, July 14: Under fire after a spate of rail accidents and slammed by his own partymen for favouritism, railway minister Nitish Kumar today created a flutter by forwarding his resignation from the government to the Prime Minister.

But the drama ended soon as Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected his offer to step down. “The Prime Minister has received the resignation of Nitish Kumar and he has rejected it,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Sources said Vajpayee consulted National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes, Kumar’s Samata Party colleague, before turning down his offer.

They said Kumar put in his papers to blunt criticism by his detractors, both within his party and the Opposition. The minister, the sources said, feared that the Opposition would clamour for his resignation in the wake of a series of rail accidents and also the controversial appointment of the new railway board chairman superseding 14 senior officers.

The resignation drama was preceded by a hard-hitting speech by Kumar at the party’s national council meeting here in the presence of Fernandes and other senior leaders. A few hours earlier, controversial MP Prabhunath Singh had ticked off Kumar by threatening to quit if expelled anti-Kumar leaders, including Lok Sabha member Raghunath Jha and five Bihar legislators, were not taken back.

Jha and another MP, Brahmanand Mandal, had in a memo to the Prime Minister recently sought a probe into “large-scale” irregularities in the railway ministry.

Though the national council saw Kumar proposing the name of Fernandes as party president and the defence minister getting re-elected, the meeting was marred by squabbles and an attack on the BJP for Hindutva politics. Some leaders, including a minister from Jharkhand, Madhu Singh, created an embarrassing situation by praising RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Addressing the council, Kumar urged Fernandes to order a “judicial” probe into the allegations against him. “I will not return to the government till I come out clean. I always carry my resignation letter with me as I do not want to remain in politics by compromising self-respect,” he said.

Fernandes had turned down the resignation offer at the national council meeting itself.

While observers dismissed the resignation as “drama”, sources close to Kumar claimed the minister is insisting that Vajpayee accept his offer.

Kumar also appeared serious when he told reporters: “Everything is ok in the party, but there is some problem in the parliamentary party. The situation they (his detractors) are creating is affecting the image of the NDA government. Under the circumstances, I do not want to go back to the government.”

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