New Delhi, April 6: Rural development minister Shanta Kumar, who was accused of “anti-party activities”, resigned from the Union Cabinet today.
He met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this evening and handed over his resignation letter, which was immediately accepted and sent to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Kumar’s decision to quit was expected — Vajpayee, his deputy L.K. Advani and other party leaders have been annoyed with him for acting against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister P.K. Dhumal.
Kumar was blamed for Dhumal’s defeat to the Congress in the Assembly elections and has since been given the cold shoulder by the party leadership.
BJP sources said Kumar’s fate was nailed soon after the Himachal fiasco.
At the recent BJP national executive in Indore, both Vajpayee and Advani harped on avoiding rivalry within the party.
The message was clear — those who work against party interests would have to leave. Kumar was told to put in his papers in Indore. For the moment, his ministry will be looked after by urban development minister Anant Kumar.
When Parliament assembles after a short recess tomorrow, the focus is expected to be on Iraq. The government will be under attack for its pro-US tilt at a time when Washington is restraining India from taking unilateral action against militant camps in Pakistan.
The US statement that Pakistan and Iraq are not comparable will be used by the Opposition to slam the NDA’s support for America.
The Left parties have said they will raise the issue in the House and the rest of the Opposition, including the Congress, is expected to join forces with them.
The Opposition has made known its displeasure with the government’s soft stand. However, the Prime Minister stuck to his stand when an all-party meeting was called to discuss Iraq. But with the war continuing and civilian casualties mounting, the BJP has adopted a stronger line.
The government will be asked whether it refused to condemn Washington because of its new found policy of pragmatism and what concrete advantage has India gained from its pro-US policies. Why could India not strike at the terror camps in Pakistan when the US could attack Iraq to combat terrorism, the Opposition will demand to know.
Considering that the popular mood in the country is anti-US, the ruling alliance will have to be sensitive to public opinion while responding to the Opposition attack.