Two Indian ministers quit graft-tainted government

Two Indian cabinet ministers quit late Friday over corruption scandals that have engulfed Premier Manmohan Singh's graft-tainted Congress government, which faces elections within a year.

Law minister Ashwani Kumar handed in his resignation after opposition outrage over government interference in a police investigation soon after railway minister Pawan Bansal quit over a separate bribe allegation controversy.

The two men separately visited the prime minister at his residence and submitted their resignations on what Indian news channel NDTV labelled "Black Friday".

"They have both resigned. There will be a statement tomorrow (Saturday) by the government," a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The resignations are the latest blow to the reputation of the scandal-battered Congress administration which the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has condemned as the "most corrupt" since India became independent in 1947.

Bansal, a veteran member of the ruling Congress party, stepped down a week after police arrested his nephew Vijay Singla for allegedly extracting 900 million rupees ($160,000) from a railway official to arrange his promotion.

Bansal denied any knowledge of his nephew's alleged activities but the opposition charged it was impossible for him not to have been aware of them.

Kumar's exit came after it emerged he and officials from Singh's office and the coal ministry interfered in a police probe into the alleged cut-rate awarding of coalfields that the national auditor said cost the exchequer billions of dollars.

The opposition said the government's "substantial changes" to the police report amounted to subversion of justice.

Singh, in addition to being premier, was coal minister for part of the period under police scrutiny, fuelling opposition demands for him to also quit.

The opposition, which lost a state election to the Congress government earlier this week, has not so far called a vote of confidence.

But there are growing doubts over how long the minority government, which is clinging to power with the support of two regional parties, can stagger on. Its five-year mandate expires in the first half of 2014.

The resignations, reportedly at the behest of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, came hours after the party said it would not "spare anybody" mired in scandal in a signal it was washing its hands of the ministers.

On Wednesday, parliament adjourned early after the opposition paralysed proceedings for days, demanding the exit of both ministers.

The premature end meant the government could not pass key legislation aimed at drawing much-needed foreign investment.

The BJP is setting its sights on forcing the resignation of the soft-spoken 80-year-old prime minister widely condemned for ineffectiveness while overseeing a sharp slowdown in Asia's third-largest economy.

"There is no logic in the prime minister's continuance," senior BJP leader L.K. Advani told the Press Trust of India, demanding Singh "must resign now".

The government is still reeling from 2010 allegations by the auditor that cut-rate allocation of telecom spectrum may have cost the exchequer $31 billion. A host of government officials, corporate executives and a former minister face trial over that scandal.

Leading news magazine India Today in its latest edition asserted Singh was "fast becoming a prime embarrassment for the government" for failing to stem the tide of scandals on his watch.