The union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s refusal to resign and the continuous support of the Congress party to him in this matter is a serious issue. It is not merely a moral issue, which perhaps the modern Indian politician happily gives the pass, but one that riskily pertains to the manner in which the investigations are to be carried out. The minister stands accused at the centre of a corruption scandal as his nephew, Vijay Singla, who is his constituency manager besides being a director on several family owned firms, has been caught red-handed accepting a sizeable bribe in order to fix a lucrative posting for a senior railway official by none other than the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It is quite obvious that Singla, on the face of it, has no other source of influence in the railway ministry other than his uncle and cannot fix postings and transfers in this government department except through this minister’s connivance and help. This is an angle that needs further investigation and confirmation but Bansal’s role is dubious and no amount of distancing by him from his nephew or clean chits by the Congress party claiming no direct involvement on his part can spare him from a probe. The CBI has to trace the ultimate beneficiaries of the bribe who can only be found at the top levels of the railway ministry where decisions on such postings are made. In all propriety, therefore, in order not to impede the CBI enquiry and to facilitate it, Bansal should have resigned.
In the next few days, the CBI will have to question several railway ministry personnel as well as probe the workings of the ministry. It will have to do so with Bansal sitting at its head, in a position to influence the course of the enquiry and the conduct of the ministry officials and to conceal or destroy valuable evidence. In the absence of the railway minister’s resignation the CBI is handicapped in its investigations. It is surprising that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who continues to enjoy his reputation for honesty but also presides over a cabinet composed of those who are or have been embroiled in corruption scandals or other grave improprieties, has not enforced this rule of resignation. This kind of corruption corrodes our democracy and administration and one may have imagined that the prime minister and Congress would have been concerned. Yet, its business as usual, with them more worried about political survival and less about public weal.