Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late on Sunday night, the second time in a day, amidst speculation that he may resign.
Tharoor drove into the Race Course residence of the Prime Minister moments after Singh held a meeting of the Congress core group including party chief Sonia Gandhi.
The meeting discussed continuance of the minister in the wake of controversy over allotment of sweat equity of the value of Rs 70 crore to his friend Sunanda Pushkar by the IPL Kochi franchise.
First Gandhi met Singh one-on-one before the core group discussions. Tharoor, whose removal has been demanded by the Opposition on grounds of corruption, had met Singh at noon to give his side of the story. There was no official word on all these meetings.
Party sources said Gandhi was unhappy over the entire development and leaders felt that Sunanda Pushkar's offer to return the sweat equity amounted to admission of guilt.
Tharoor went to Singh's residence in the night in a car without the red light unlike in the morning. The core group is also believed to have discussed the damage wrought by the controversy to the government and the party and that a decision should be taken in a way the party could face the Parliament.
Parliament was paralysed on Friday with the opposition demanding his resignation. It had also given enough hints that it would continue to rock Parliament on the issue if Tharoor was not sacked.
Earlier, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday evening to decide on the minister's continuance in the government.
They were joined later by other members of the Congress core group including senior party leaders Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony, P Chidambaram and political secretary to Congress president Ahmad Patel.
This was the first meeting between Gandhi and Singh after the controversy erupted over the Kochi IPL ownership issue involving Tharoor. Even as the parleys began, Tharoor's friend Sunanda Pushkar, who has a sweat equity valued at Rs 70 crore in the IPL Kochi franchise, resigned from Rendezvous Sports World.
The company is one of the stakeholders in IPL Kochi. On a day of fast paced developments, Tharoor met the Prime Minister for about 45 minutes during which is he is understood to have explained his position to Singh in the wake of allegations that he helped his friend Sunanda to acquire a sweat equity in the Kochi IPL franchise.
There was no official word on what transpired at the meeting either from the Prime Minister's Office or from Tharoor's side. There were conflicting reports one of which said Tharoor was unwilling to step down on the ground that he has not done anything wrong while another said he was willing to quit if the party and the government found him to be an embarrassment.
The Minister had met Congress President Sonia Gandhi two days back. The party continues to distance itself from the issue amid a clamour from the opposition ranks for his removal.
In Dubai, 48-year-old Sunanda made a last ditch attempt to save Tharoor by voluntarily offering to surrender her free equity she got from the consortium which bought the IPL Kochi franchise for Rs.1,533 crore.
"Given the deeply unpleasant publicity surrounding my involvement, however, I can no longer imagine being able to find the enthusiasm required to associate myself with any IPL activity in the foreseeable future," she said in a statement to Rendezvous Sports, one of the stakeholders in IPL Kochi.
Her lawyer Ashish Mehta said she had taken the decision yesterday. Both the BJP and the Left parties made it clear that Sunanda abandoning her stake will not let Tharoor off the hook as far as they are concerned. Stepping up the pressure for Tharoor's resignation, BJP said, "The stain of corruption is not washed by the return of bribe money."
"It is a case of stinking corruption," BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters, adding Sunanda giving back her equity was immaterial. "It's an admission of guilt" and proves that Sunanda is Tharoor's "front" and does his bidding, he said. Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi told reporters in Kolkata, "The Centre should investigate the entire IPL issue but before that Tharoor should resign. If he does not resign, he should be sacked."
CPI leader D Raja also said Sunanda surrendering her equity is an admission of guilt and cannot save Tharoor. It has become untenable for him to continue as a minister, he said.
"The Prime Minister should not take much time to decide on this and the Congress should not drag this issue any further...Tharoor has to step down," he said.