Another blow

Another blow

The charge-sheeting of senior Himachal Pradesh Congress  leader Virbhadra Singh by a special court in Shimla has again brought the clouds of corruption over the party and the UPA government.

His resignation from the union council of ministers, where he held the portfolio of small and medium enterprises, has saved the party the embarrassment of defending him, which would have been counter-productive in the present climate of opinion. Virbhadra Singh was not a senior minister, nor were the charges against him related to his actions as a union minister.

But he is an important leader and was the face of the party in Himachal Pradesh for over five decades, having been chief minister there five times. The fact that he is the third minister who had to quit in the wake of corruption charges could further hurt the UPA’s image. The Congress party had a fig leaf of defence because the two others who had to leave were not from its ranks. It has none now.

The case against him is based on conversations he and his wife, who is also charge-sheeted, purportedly had with some industrialists and officials in 1989, when he was chief minister, on investments in the state.

A CD containing the conversations became public and was produced in court, though Virbhadra Singh has disputed its authenticity.  It is a reflection on the system that even decades-old charges of  corruption are still calling for investigation and  decision.

There may still be no further progress in the case if Virbhadra Singh gets relief from the high court, where he has challenged his prosecution. Whatever the legal outcome of the case, the public, who have reasons to believe the worst about politicians, will not easily discount the charges of bribery and conspiracy, ostensibly supported by the words of Virbhadra Singh himself as evidence.

Himachal Pradesh, where there is a BJP government now, is going for Assembly elections later this year. The Congress hoped to win the elections, after the recent loss in Punjab and the poor performance on Uttarakhand, which are neighbouring states. Virbhadra Singh was to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

The party will find it difficult to fight the elections with its tallest leader facing corruption charges. Attempts to dismiss the case as the result of a political conspiracy before the elections may not greatly appeal to the people.

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