A day after Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal
and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar
handed over their resignations to the Prime Minister, the focus has shifted to who would replace them in the union cabinet.
Sources say Union minister Mallikarjun Kharge is seen as a top contender for Railway Minister's post. He was in the running for the Karnataka Chief Minister's job too, but lost out to K Siddaramaiah. Sources say he could be given the Railways portfolio as "compensation" for losing out on the chief ministership of Karnataka.
The charge of the Law Ministry is expected to be given either to Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily or to Information and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, sources add.
Mr Bansal, who became the first Congressman in 17 years to be appointed Railways minister in October last year, was under tremendous pressure to quit after his nephew Vijay Singla was arrested last week for allegedly accepting bribe to organise a plum posting for a senior official in the Railways. The CBI is expected to interrogate Mr Bansal to follow up on allegations of his involvement in the case as new details are emerging in its investigations.
Mr Kumar, meanwhile, is in trouble for having made deletions in a CBI report on its coal allocation investigations meant for the Supreme Court. The court has severely reprimanded both the CBI and the government for Mr Kumar's actions. In July, it will examine the legality of the CBI showing the Law Minister its report.
Mr Bansal and Mr Kumar resigned a few hours after Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the Prime Minister on Friday evening. Both are politicians from Punjab and seen as close to the PM. The government backed them for several days in the face of huge opposition fury, but Mrs Gandhi was reportedly not in favour of either of the two ministers, smeared by scandal, continuing in the government.
They were summoned after hectic activity at the PM's residence all through the evening, beginning with Mrs Gandhi's visit, suggesting a churn in the ruling party, which has been bushwhacked by scandal after scandal perilously close to the 2014 general elections now months away.
The Opposition accuses Mr Kumar of trying shield the PM. The coal scam is particularly sensitive for the government as the Prime Minister held the coal portfolio for a portion of the period in which coal block allocations are being investigated.