New Delhi: A few hours after Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the Prime Minister on Friday evening, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar drove up to the 7 Race Course Road residence of Dr Manmohan Singh in their official cars.
When they drove out, Mr Bansal before Mr Kumar, the red beacons that signalled their status as ministers were gone. As he left the PM's residence, Mr Bansal confirmed, "Yes I have resigned." Mr Kumar too has put in his papers. Both the ministers dropped today by the UPA government 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.
The ministers 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.
Senior minister Ghulam Nabi Azad visited the PM as did political advisor to Mrs Gandhi, Ahmed Patel.
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. (Read: Your 10-point cheat-sheet on Rail-gate)
News of Mr Bansal being asked to go came first and the BJP, which forced an early end to the Parliament's Budget session this week over its demand that Mr Bansal and Mr Kumar resign, said, "Pawan Bansal resigned under pressure... now what about Ashwani Kumar?"
Mr Kumar 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.
The Opposition has accused 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.