Charges of corruption and misuse of power are not new to six-time Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. Till now he managed to survive most of the controversies either by his sheer grit to fight back legally or by politically banking on his mass base.
The 81-year old politician is under a cloud once again with a CBI FIR lodged against him and his family including wife Pratibha Singh, a former Congress MP. The case relates to his alleged disproportionate assets of Rs 6.03 crore acquired during his term as union minister for Steel and MSME in 2009-12. This time, however, the situation looks bad for Virbhadra Singh.
Right now, the party leadership has chosen to standby him. Locally, he has managed to get the support of his cabinet and all 36 Congress MLAs to project this as case of `NDA’s vendetta politics and an attempt to dislodge a Congress government’.
Much of Virbhadra’s present troubles are the result of his mishandling of his personal finances and assets. His family members, i.e. wife and son Vikramaditya Singh’s financial dealings with controversial businessman Vakamulla Chandra Shekhar have multiplied the problems.
The inconsistencies in his Income Tax Returns (ITRs) were revised by him for the years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 from Rs 76.18 lakhs to Rs 6.76 crore. This showed an exponential rise in his income from his orchard for which he signed a MOU with one Anand Chauhan – a LIC agent who later invested Rs 5 crore in three single premium LIC policies – as well as his Rs 3.90 crore unsecured loan raised from Vakamulla Chandra Shekhar. The latter’s power company Venture Energy and Technologies Ltd was reportedly shown undue favours. There were also questionable business dealings, investments between his wife and son and Chandra Shekhar. All of these are under the CBI’s scanner. In fact, the CBI had registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against him in June 2015 which has been converted into a FIR.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had as BJP’s leader in Rajya Sabha during the UPA government written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking a CBI probe into corruption charges against Virbhadra Singh. He had termed it as an ‘open and shut’ case of corruption and misuse of power. Later, the Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhusant had also filed a PIL in Delhi High Court which is pending and the CBI is slated to file its report at the next hearing on October 14.
Having weathered major storms before and been exonerated by a Shimla court in the infamous audio CD case – just a day before he took over as Chief Minister on December 25, 2012 — Virbhadra says he will be proven innocent once again.
Politically, he is still firmly in the saddle with no one within the party with the power to dislodge him till the High Command chooses to back him. However with the FIR against him and an NDA in power at the Centre, Virbhadra has a bigger battle on his hands especially since the opposition BJP is gunning for his resignation to pave way for fresh polls in the state still two years away.