Congress sacks Chavan and Kalmadi over graft

Congress sacks Chavan and Kalmadi over graft

New Delhi: Ruling Congress party has sacked two powerful members over corruption allegations in a bid to repair the party’s image ahead of a series of state elections critical to the coalition’s strength.

The resignations came just as the government was bracing itself for opposition protests in parliament, where it wants to push major reforms including a bill to ease land acquisition for industry and mines.

One of the leaders to leave was Suresh Kalmadi, the chief organiser of the Delhi Commonwealth Games, who had become the focus of widespread criticism during months of corruption allegations and organisational blunders.

The other was Ashok Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra state, who offered to quit pending an inquiry into allegations of a property scam in the financial capital Mumbai

“It does take off pressure. After all, it’s the Congress that has been involved here," said one senior Congress party official, who asked to remain anonymous. Asked if the two senior members were sacked, he replied. “Of course."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is trying to push major reforms including a bill to ease land acquisition for industry and mines in the session of parliament which opens on Tuesday.

Singh has had to face several stormy parliament sessions over issues like high prices since it was re-elected, and the disruptions have held up many important reform bills.

“It’s significant because the government is going to face a lot of flak," said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political economist.

“The Congress high command, which includes Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, realised that these two individuals have become embarrassments for the party. They have become a big liability so they want to refurbish their tarnished image a little bit."

There have been a string of corruption scandals during six years of Congress party rule and almost no one has been brought to justice. That includes allegations the government gave telecoms 2G licenses at rock-bottom prices and approved inflated bills presented for the Commonwealth Games.

A land reform bill is pending in parliament proposing to give farmers better prices for land taken over for factories or roads and to share mining profits with locals. The proposed laws are seen as damping protests that have held up several billion-dollar investments key to accelerating growth.

Corruption charges are swirling over a new block of flats in an upscale Mumbai district where homes meant for war widows have gone cheaply to politicians and military officers. There were media reports that Maharashtra’s chief minister Chavan had ensured his mother-in-law and other relatives were allotted apartments.

“Pending inquiry Mr Chavan offered to resign," Congress spokeswoman Jayanthi Natarajan told the Indian news channel Times Now.

“Our agenda is that parliament should function, important legislation should be passed, governance should continue. If the opposition’s agenda is unfortunately to disturb parliament, then the public will judge them by their actions."