A heart bowed down with the weight of woe will cling to the weakest hope. Barely hours before he was forced to resign as Railway Minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal sought in vain to propitiate some unknown larger force by feeding a goat at his residence. Media accounts have it that the goat was subsequently sacrificed, evidently to ward off the malefic effects on Bansal's political career in the week since his nephew was caught taking a bribe to facilitate a promotion in the railways. The "goat-hungry gods" weren't so easily appeased, so Bansal had to walk away, bleating about his "innocence", into the sunset.
Barely hours later, Ashwani Kumar, too resigned as Law Minister for the sin of covering up the tracks on behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Coalgate scandal. But in his comments soon after, and again on Sunday, he insinuated that he was being made a bali ka bakra and insisted that he had done no wrong.
Since then, several media accounts have been unquestioningly channelling the political spin put out by Congress sources suggesting that the two tainted Ministers were forced to step down at the insistence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. According to these accounts (for instance, here and here), Manmohan Singh was reluctant to ask Ashwani Kumar to resign because, in his estimation, the charges against him - that he made substantive changes to the CBI draft preliminary enquiry report into the Coalgate scam - were not serious and the Supreme Court had not formally passed strictures against him. In these narratives, even Bansal had offered to resign a full week earlier, but had been asked by Manmohan Singh to stay on.
It is true, of course, that Manmohan Singh did bat for Ashwani Kumar just last week, and said publicly that there was "no question" of his being asked to resign. But, then, so were the Congress party spokepersons, who would presumably have been channelling the official party line, which - given the political dynamics within the party - would have reflected Sonia Gandhi's mind.
But now we are led to believe that it was Sonia Gandhi who twisted Manmohan Singh's arm and got him to drop both Bansal and Ashwani Kumar because their continuance in the government was tainting the Congress' pristine-pure image of propriety.
This stretches credulity on several counts. We're asked to believe that Sonia Gandhi's conscience, which wasn't particularly perturbed by the damning allegations of Robert Vadra's supernormal profits on land deals - secured by leveraging his political clout and "insider information" on changes in land-use patterns - suddenly became prickly now. She herself and her son Rahul Gandhi stand accused of cornering prime real-estate in violation of election laws, in the National Herald case, but we're now asked to believe, Madam stands for probity, and will even tick off her own puppet-Prime Minister in order to be seen to be doing the right thing.
Both those cases were just as damaging for the Congress' image, and in Vadra's case, Ministers in the government came out batting on behalf of Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law and offer him self-serving clean chits.
Stretching farther back in time, the UPA government's culpability in letting Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi escape from India and avoid justice in the Bofors scandal casts a long shadow on the Gandhi family's role. But the theme for today is that Sonia Gandhi is the last line of defence for upholding propriety in the Congress - since even Manmohan Singh is shielding corrupt and overreaching Ministers.
Manmohan Singh should take heed of the smoke signals that are being put out by Sonia Gandhi's loyal supporters, even to the extent of insinuating that it was he - and he alone - who wanted to shield Bansal and Ashwani Kumar.
The message is this: when it comes to ring-fencing Sonia Gandhi from the taint of corruption that overruns the UPA government, everyone - even the Prime Minister - is expendable. In propitiating the Mother Goddess, there are no 'holy cows', and everyone is potentially a sacrificial lamb that is ripe for slaughter.
So, watch your back, Dr Manmohan Singh. The word is out that you too are a bali ka bakra, who can be sacrificed at the appropriate time. Can you already hear the swish of the executioner's knife?