Sword of Damocles again hangs over ‘Raja Saab’ (Himachal Newsletter)

Shimla, Jan 3 (IANS) The Sword of Damocles once again hangs over septuagenarian Congress leader and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as ‘Raja Saab’, over the alleged payoffs by a company to him and his family.

“Virbhadra Singh is facing allegations of corruption, which seems to be quite serious. It’s literally a litmus test for him as the entire BJP’s central leadership is gunning for him and demanding his resignation,” said a senior Congress leader.
In the past three days, BJP MP Anurag Thakur, who is the son of two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, and BJP leader Arun Jaitley have demanded his resignation over their allegations of favouring hydropower firm Venture Energy and Technology Pvt. Ltd, which was setting up a project in the hill state.
Unfazed by the allegations, the chief minister said “these are politically motivated”.
Armed with bank details of ‘Raja Saab’ and his parliamentarian wife Pratibha Singh to substantiate their claims of money transactions between them and the company, the BJP leaders alleged: “It’s simply a case of quid pro quo.”
Jaitley, in a missive to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress, said “in the past few decades, no case of corruption has been so open and shut”.
The chief minister, he alleged, accepted Rs.1.5 crore and Rs.2.4 crore through cheques in his and his wife’s name, from Venture Energy and Technology Pvt. Ltd, owned by Vakamulla Chandersekhar of New Delhi.
Jaitley said the company was given two extensions in a hydel power project despite defaulting.
He said this was the third case of corruption in the past two years involving Virbhadra Singh, who was steel minister in the United Progressive Alliance government.
The chief minister, however, asserte that the Dhumals have started a malicious campaign against him since the state vigilance bureau has booked Anurag Thakur and Arun Dhumal for allegedly grabbing land near Dharamsala by forging revenue records.
“The BJP is raking up old issues for political gains and there is nothing new,” Virbhadra Singh told reporters in Kullu town Wednesday soon after returning from Delhi where he met party leaders, including state in-charge Ambika Soni.
He also denied reports that he had been summoned by the Congress high command and that he had failed to meet party chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi, saying he was on a private visit to the national capital to meet his wife.
On Thursday, while addressing a public meeting at Panjawar village near Una, Virbhadra Singh admitted that it was a lapse for not reflecting the personal loan raised by him in his election affidavit in November 2012, but said the error was rectified when his wife filed her affidavit for the Lok Sabha by-election from Mandi last year.
“Where is the corruption,” he asked, adding, “I have received money on a personal cheque on my name and I am repaying the installments by cheques.”
Coming out in support of the chief minister, the state cabinet has termed the allegations aggainst him “unsubstantiated”.
“The Dhumal family is feeling the heat of the on-going investigations (into scams) and fearing legal action; they are indulging in malicious propaganda and mudslinging against Virbhadra Singh,” a statement bearing the names of all the ministers said.
“Involvement of the Dhumal family is established in many cases like phone-tapping, HPCA (Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association) scam and illegal land purchases. All cases are in an advanced stage of investigation,” the ministers said.
The statement said a charge-sheet containing graft and land scam charges against Dhumal, his family members, BJP ministers and other leaders was given to the state vigilance bureau for a fair and independent probe after the Congress came to power Dec 25, 2012.
It said the government Nov 12 last year cancelled the project over company’s default in clearing dues of Rs.58 lakh.
Political observers say the Congress central leadership seems to have adopted a wait-and-watch policy on the fresh allegations against the chief minister.
“Probably they are awaiting the outcome of a status report of the CBI to be filed in the high court on its ongoing investigation into the alleged corruption complaint against Virbhadra Singh when he was the central steel minister,” said an observer.
The Delhi High Court had Nov 27 last year sought a status report from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) within six weeks on a complaint filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and posted the matter for Feb 1.
The PIL filed by Bhushan stated that there were several primary documents like income tax returns and affidavits filed with nomination papers linking the Congress leader to “dubious transactions” and investments involving large sums of money when he was a minister in the central government.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])