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May 13, 2013 at 07:04pm IST

Sonia forces PM to sack Pawan Bansal, Kharge may be Railways Minister

New Delhi: Pawan Kumar Bansal on Friday evening resigned as Railway Minister following allegations of corrupt practices by his close relatives and aides. Sources say that Bansal resigned after Congress President Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and asked him to force the Railway Minister to put in his papers.

Bansal has already sent his resignation to the Prime Minister. Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Congress leader from Karnataka, is likely to get the Railways portfolio. The Cabinet reshuffle is likely to take place next week.

Sources say the decision to ask Bansal to resign was taken after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) got the evidence that suspended Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar had met Pawan Kumar Bansal on April 21 and on May 2 he was made Member (Electrical) in the Railway Board even though he was a Signals Member.

Sources say that such a step is never taken in the Railway Board and the CBI told the Prime Minister that there was enough incremental evidence to link Bansal to the cash-for-jobs scam.

Bansal was under pressure to resign for almost a week after the CBI on May 3 arrested Railway Board member Mahesh Kumar for reportedly carrying Rs 90 lakh in cash to be paid as bribe for a plum posting in the Board. Mahesh Kumar, Member (Staff) Railway Board, was in touch with Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla.

Political parties welcomed Bansal's resignation, although the BJP said it should have come earlier. "What was the PM doing all this while," asked Rajiv Pratap Rudy. He added that Law Minister Ashwani Kumar should be removed too.

Bansal's exit is expected to trigger a reshuffle in the Council of Ministers over which the Congress President and the Prime Minister will meet on Sunday. The reshuffule, expected next week, may also affect Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is also under attack over vetting of CBI report on coal block allocation. Unlike Bansal, Kumar's portfolio may be changed.

Initially the Congress party decided to weather the storm over Bansal but as more and more damning reports surfaced, it had to take a call on asking him to quit.

The big questions:

- Can the PM afford to defend Law Minister Ashwani Kumar any longer?

- Is making a distinction between Pawan Kumar Bansal, Ashwani Kumar a wise move?

- Has delay in acting against Bansal hit the UPA's image irretrievably?

With additional information from PTI

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