Suranjit shown the door
[Bangla Daily Star] Nearly five months into his taking over as railway minister, Suranjit Sengupta resigned yesterday on the prime minister's instructions the night before, following the midnight recovery of Tk 70 lakh from the microbus of his close aide.
The money had allegedly been collected as bribe from railway job seekers.
"At the meeting with the prime minister on Sunday night, I told her that I wanted to relieve myself of the charge of the railway ministry, and she happily accepted it," a pale-looking Suranjit told a press briefing at the Rail Bhaban yesterday afternoon.
He said he had decided to step down taking full responsibility for scandal surrounding the cash haul. "As a minister, I'm responsible for all good and bad things in my ministry."
Only a couple of days ago, he had said he would not quit. Since the beginning of the cash haul affair from his assistant personal secretary's (APS) microbus on the night of April 9, he strongly defended his aide by saying he would not take action against the APS until the latter had been found guilty.
He also said the vehicle with the money was not heading for his Jigatola residence in the capital, contrary to the claims of the APS and two other railway officials travelling in the microbus.
But then, the Sunday night meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led to a change of mind in him. Sources at the Prime Minister's Office told The Daily Star that Suranjit got a "clear signal" from the one-to-one meeting with the PM that he was no more expected to head the ministry.
Suranjit, who has a long 55-year political career, told the press that he would also stay away from politics until he came "clear" through investigation, terming it a "break" in his political career.
"I made the decision for the sake of a fair investigation and to set an example, acting beyond the existing practice, and to uphold democracy," an embattled Suranjit told a large crowd of journalists who gathered at the Rail Bhaban following hints that he might step down.
The seven-time parliamentarian from Sunamganj in the northeast region also hoped that the "truth" would emerge through the inquiry.
Earlier in the morning, Suranjit skipped the regular cabinet meeting. He went to his Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban office and prepared a draft which he read out at the briefing.
He went to the railway ministry around 12:45pm on a vehicle flying the national flag. But after the announcement of his resignation, he left the ministry in the same car without the national flag at 3:15pm.
Before leaving, he had a farewell meeting with the officials and employees of the ministry and exchanged greetings with them.
Suranjit, who had originally been left out of the cabinet after the general elections of December 2008 apparently because of his "compromising" role during the 2007-08 military-backed caretaker government, finally got a berth in the newly-formed rail ministry in December last year, about three years into the government's tenure.
After taking office, he appeared to be a crusader against corruption in the railway and his vow to "catch the black cat from the bag" made such a bang that his downfall came almost like a whimper, an absolute anti-climax.
And the beginning of the end of his short ministerial career was signalled when the driver of his APS swerved the vehicle into the BGB headquarters in Pilkhana on the night of April 9 and raised an alarm about the APS and two other railway officials -- the now-suspended general manager (East) Yusuf Ali Mirdha, and Dhaka Division security chief Enamul Huq -- carrying Tk 70 lakh in bribe money.
The money is said to be part of the bribe taken recently from job seekers for about 7,000 posts in the railway.
In a belated reaction, Suranjit on Sunday sacked the APS and suspended the GM and the security chief.
He also formed two committees to probe the scandal. But both the committees came under question as they were staffed by his personal secretary, a railway ministry joint secretary and the director general of railway, which is also under the ministry.
Posted by: Fred