Sonia may ask ‘tainted’ Sahai, Jaiswal to go

NEW DELHI (TIP): As the stink from ‘Coalgate’ rises, the continuation of tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai and coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal looks uncertain, with the Congress leadership considering strong measures to contain the fallout from the scam.

Although the leadership continues to resist the allegation of a scam, it appears to have come around to the view that persisting with the duo may have become politically untenable. Simultaneously , the leadership is also considering its options vis-a-vis party men like Vijay Darda, Naveen Jindal and former minister of state for coal Santosh Bagrodia who have been enveloped by the widening shadow of the scam.

The Congress leadership seems to realize that the involvement of party members in the controversial allocation of coal blocks has thickened the perception of collusion between the government and the allotters of blocks, handing opposition a stick to beat it with. The sudden spike in speculation about their political fate coincided with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s return from abroad.

Sonia , who had gone for a routine medical check up, is likely to hold deliberations with her colleagues as part of the larger restructuring she has planned for the government and the party this month. Sahai had written to PM Manmohan Singh recommending allocation of coal blocks to a company, SKS Ispat and Power, which had his younger brother as one of its directors .

The company in question got blocks the very next day, and the tourism minister has not been able to shake off the charge of conflict of interest. A clear case of conflict of interest has not been established against Jaiswal yet, but the leadership seems to feel that he has not been able to effectively explain why coal blocks continued to be allocated on his charge, and well into 2010. His explanation that he was merely following through on the decisions taken by the screening committee before he got charge of the ministry has not been found to be convincing .

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There is also a wariness of the unfolding revelations on links of government functionaries with the allottees. Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Darda has been named in CBI’s first set of FIRs into Coalgate. Although the agency has not charged him yet under the Prevention of Corruption Act, his proximity to Manoj Jayaswal, one of the prime beneficiaries, is seen as a political vulnerability for the Congress. Jindal, whose Jindal Power Limited was allocated several coal blocks, has been in the opposition’s line of fire.

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