A two-page letter written by Law and Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to Congress President Sonia Gandhi last month, in which he “reiterated a commitment to work for the party”, sparked reports that several ministers had offered to resign from the government and were being drafted for party work.
So jittery is the mood in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that within hours of the reports, several ministers had to deny ‘rumours’ that they had written to the Congress president and had offered to resign from the government. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had to come out with a statement that it had no comment to make.
Reports that at least four ministers — Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Law and Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs Vayalar Ravi, and Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh — had offered to step down from government for party work were denied by the ministers. Sources, though, said there was thinking in the party that some of them should be made to step down in the wake of the Congress’ disastrous performance in the recent Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and the challenge of three other assembly elections in the coming eight months. This points to a comprehensive party-government overhaul eventually. However, no one was willing to say when.
The ministers themselves denied the reports. Ramesh told Business Standard the reports were ‘bogus’. Khurshid said, “I have periodically been writing to the Congress president to give information and get guidance. This is just one such letter. In moments of trial and triumph, I think it is important to reiterate our commitment to work for the party.”
Ravi said he had written no such letter.
Ghulam Nabi Azad is already an office-bearer in the party, so sources close to him said it was ridiculous to suggest he was quitting the government for party work.
However, some members of the committee set up by the Congress president to investigate reasons for the party’s electoral debacle said although they had not submitted their report to the party president yet, they would recommend some ministers be drafted for party work. The committee is headed by veteran Congressman and Defence Minister A K Antony. Power Minister and former Maharashtra Chief Minister S K Shinde and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit are members. It is likely to submit its report at the end of the month.
Interestingly, other ministers who are connected with UP and had as much a role, if not more, in the party’s sorry performance (such as Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma) vouchsafed no comment and did not offer to quit the government.