New Delhi: Resign first for the sake of an independent probe - BJP to ministers accused of corruption during UPA rule.
As the BJP defends finance minister Arun Jaitley against political opponents demanding his resignation on corruption charges, it looks almost like a replay of the UPA days when too several ministers came under fire.
Except that as the accusers of the past have turned defenders, their ideas of what constitutes grounds for a minister's resignation have changed.
During the UPA's 10-year rule, at least six ministers from the Congress alone, including a chief minister, had quit under pressure from an Opposition that stalled session after session of Parliament. ( See chart)
The refrain was that an independent probe could be held and guilt established only after the minister resigned. This week, junior parliamentary affairs minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy turned that logic upside down by arguing the Congress ministers' "guilt has been established by them resigning" and that the BJP needn't follow their example.
UPA foreign minister Natwar Singh had been the first to resign - on December 6, 2005 - after a UN panel named him and the Congress as illegal beneficiaries of the Iraqi oil-for-food programme.
"I do not wish to be the excuse for the Opposition to stall the functioning of Parliament," Natwar had said while stepping down, although reports said the push had come from the top of the party.
The BJP had stalled Parliament after the government ordered a judicial probe instead of a CBI investigation. The probe indicted Natwar and his son Jagat for allegedly helping people close to them bag three Iraqi oil contracts. The case is not yet closed.
Junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor quit less than a year into the UPA's second term, the government securing his resignation with an eye on Parliament where the Finance Bill was at stake.
The BJP had demanded his sacking even after Tharoor's friend and later wife, Sunanda Pushkar, offered to give up her stake in the Kochi IPL team, whose ownership lay at the root of the controversy.
Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan resigned before the chargesheet was filed in the Adarsh housing scandal as the government, fearful of another session being washed out, sought to pre-empt the Opposition.
Tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai, linked to the coal-block controversy, quit ahead of a cabinet reshuffle that was meant to give a facelift to a government wracked by allegations of corruption and policy paralysis.
The following summer, law minister Ashwani Kumar and railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal resigned on the same day.
In all these cases, the Congress insists, it was not evidence of wrongdoing but political propriety that guided the government's decision to secure the resignations.
"In such cases, it is not legality that is the deciding factor. Guilt is something for the courts to decide," a former Congress minister said.
The BJP began to find itself at the receiving end from the monsoon session this year, when foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and chief ministers Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh came under fire.
Sushma was in the dock for helping former cricket administrator Lalit Modi, accused of evading Indian law, secure travel papers in London. Raje is accused of secretly supporting Lalit's immigration plea to British authorities while Chauhan has been linked to an examination scam that has taken a sinister turn. None has resigned.
Asked whether the BJP had different yardsticks for Congress ministers and its own, Rudy dismissed the charge.
"If anyone stands up and 50 people rush into the well and scream, it does not become a cause for action. If that is the case, then every second day someone from the treasury benches should be resigning," he told The Telegraph.
"You need guilt in order to resign. Our ministers have no guilt and, therefore, there is no reason to resign."
So, why had the Congress ministers resigned?
"Congress ministers had a deep sense of guilt; otherwise the Congress would not have asked them to resign. So, guilt has been established by them resigning," Rudy said.
Only a court can establish guilt, though, and a legislator can be disqualified only if convicted, as with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam and Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa in an assets case.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, though, had set a moral example almost six decades ago, when corruption charges and calls for ministers' heads was less frequent than now. He had resigned as railway minister from Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet after the Ariyalur train accident in Tamil Nadu in 1956, which killed over 120 people.
-The Telegraph India