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Under fire over scams, PM cracks the whip, sacks Ashwani and Bansal

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May 13, 2013 at 07:05pm IST

New Delhi: Just hours after the resignation of Pawan Kumar Bansal as Railways Minister, Ashwani Kumar, the other Congress leader embroiled in a controversy, resigned as Law Minister.

On a day of dramatic developments, Congress President Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and it was decided that both should be asked to put in his papers to contain any further damage to the government that has already been plagued by a series of scandals.

"Yes, I have resigned," 64-year-old Bansal said, emerging from a meeting with the Prime Minister, a week after his nephew was arrested for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh from a Railway Board member for a promise of promotion. Ashwani Kumar, who is under attack over vetting of CBI report in the probe into coal blocks allocation scam, also met the Prime Minister soon after Bansal and submitted his resignation.

PMO spokesman said their resignations are being forwarded to President Pranab Mukherjee.

In his resignation letter, Bansal maintained that he was not aware that his nephew Vijay Singla was in contact with Railway Board Member Mahesh Kumar but he still thought it proper to step down.

He said he looks forward to an expeditious investigation into the allegations.

Ashwani Kumar, in his resignation letter, said he was resigning to put an end to "unnecessary controversy" and "public perception of any wrongdoing". He maintained that the Supreme Court had not passed any strictures against him.

The government is expected to come out with a detailed statement on the issue on Saturday.

The Congress, which initially decided to weather the storm over Bansal and Kumar, acted to contain any further damage as more and more damning reports surfaced. The decision to sack the two also seems to have been made more resolute after the Karnataka elections, in which the electorate handed a clear majority to the Congress.

Sonia and Manmohan took the decision as there was growing unease in the party that the continuance of the two ministers was eroding the credibility of the government, which has been battling scams and controversies for the last three years.

The government, which suffered a severe blow when the Railway Board scam surfaced, was further embarrassed with more reports emerging about the relatives of Bansal benefiting from a public sector bank by way of loans when he was Minister of State of Finance. A clear hint about action against Bansal came earlier in the day when Congress spokesman Bhakt Charan Das said the party will not spare anybody "mired" in corruption or manipulation.

The exit of the two ministers 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 reshuffle is expected next week.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports from Bangalore that Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who lost out in race for Chief Ministership in Karnataka, told his supporters not to be disheartened because he may be given the Railway portfolio.

Sources added that Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan could be called back to Delhi and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde could be asked to take his place.

(With additional information from PTI)

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