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Party credits Sonia for exits - Shuffle plan with eye on poll

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By SANJAY K. JHA
  • Published 12.05.13
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Manmohan, Sonia

New Delhi, May 11: The Congress today confirmed that Sonia Gandhi had taken the initiative to ensure that Pawan Bansal and Ashwani Kumar stepped down even as it hinted at a shuffle in the government and the party ahead of general elections due next year.

One key aim behind the change will be to refurbish the party’s image, dented by the recent controversies that forced the exit of the two cabinet ministers on the same day.

Sources said the changes would bear the stamp of Rahul Gandhi, who has practically begun to work as the party head.

At least four ministers may be brought into the party organisation and some of the younger politicians given important assignments. The shuffle may happen before the government’s May 22 anniversary.

Law minister Kumar and railway minister Bansal quit last night, the former over his controversial vetting of a CBI probe report on coal allocations and the latter in connection with a bribery scandal involving his nephew.

Although telecom minister Kapil Sibal has been given additional charge of law and surface transport minister C.P. Joshi asked to look after the railways, the sources said these were temporary arrangements till the shuffle.

The party has decided to forcefully back Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the BJP’s calls for his resignation over Kumar’s intervention in the CBI probe.

Congress leaders confirmed that Singh and Sonia had wanted to handle the Kumar and Bansal controversies in different ways but asserted that this did not mean a “breakdown of relationship” or “trust deficit”. They said Sonia was “whole-heartedly” backing Singh.

“Sonia looked frustrated and wanted these ministers to go because the party’s image had been dented badly,” a senior leader told The Telegraph.

“She was extremely worried about the way the government was functioning. But two individuals differ sometimes and that does not mean a separation.”

The leader added: “Sonia forced the Prime Minister’s hand (to sack the ministers) probably because she was looking at the larger political reality in contrast to Singh’s precision analysis of ministerial guilt. He (Singh) too was ready to drop Bansal and change Kumar’s portfolio in a shuffle but Sonia wanted to send a clearer message to the people.”

Party spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das today confirmed that it was Sonia who had taken the initiative yesterday to ensure that both ministers stepped down.

“(The) Congress takes action. These things are not tolerated in the party under the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. History is witness to it. The resignations are a strong message from Sonia Gandhi. What has been proved from yesterday’s action is that we don’t believe in mere words,” Das said.

Asked if he was giving the credit for the resignations to Sonia and not the Prime Minister, he said: “Sonia took the initiative yesterday.”

Kumar’s assertion today that he had committed no wrong and media reports that Bansal, in his resignation letter, had asked why the Prime Minister had not allowed him to resign on the first day of the controversy, too seem to point to Singh’s assessment of the situation.

Bansal had offered to quit at the outset and most party leaders considered it the best option. But the core committee last Sunday decided to back both the ministers because the Prime Minister didn’t support the idea of their removal.

While Kumar yesterday questioned the wisdom of his sacking, he publicly asserted today that he had done no wrong and had resigned to end the controversy.

“I have done so to put an end to an unnecessary controversy in a matter which is before the honourable Supreme Court and in which no adverse comments have been made against me in any manner whatsoever,” he said in a statement.

Kumar defended his vetting of the CBI draft report, saying he had done what the Prime Minister and the party high command thought was appropriate.

Asked if he had been made a scapegoat, he said: “(The) people of this country, my friends who stood by me, many of you in (the) media and my esteemed colleagues in the profession know me for what I am. I would rather let them make a judgement.”

Kumar added: “I quit because the Prime Minister and the party high command thought it fit. As a loyal foot soldier, I have done (so) and I am proud of the fact that I am a loyal foot soldier of the party.”

Kumar may be rehabilitated in some way after sometime.