The promptness with which five-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh tendered his resignation as union cabinet minister has apparently betrayed his eagerness to return to state politics.
Following the framing of corruption and conspiracy charges against him by a local court, Virbhadra preferred to take the moral high ground with an eye on the assembly elections scheduled to be held later this year.
Ever since he won the Lok Sabha elections from Mandi in 2009, Virbhadra had been finding it hard to make his presence felt in New Delhi. In “the battle of the kings”, Virbhadra, former ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur Bushar, had defeated Maheshwar Singh, scion of the royal family of Kullu.
One of the seniormost members in Parliament, Virbhadra was initially kept out of the UPA-2 cabinet. The former CM threatened to resign from the Lok Sabha, a move which fetched him the steel ministry.
However, Virbhadra, who was the union minister of state for industries in 1982, considered the portfolio lightweight for his stature. In the cabinet reshuffle of 2011, he was “shocked” on being given the micro, small and medium enterprise ministry.
Virbhadra resented the move, but stayed on in the cabinet.
Feeling sidelined in Delhi, Virbhadra made frequent tours to the state to reconsolidate his political position, even as his detractors - union commerce minister Anand Sharma, state Congress chief Kaul Singh Thakur and former tourism minister GS Bali – tried to pin him down.
While his detractors are saying that Virbhadra was asked by the high command to quit, his supporters claim that he did it on his own. “Going by his high standards of politics, Virbhadra resigned voluntarily,” said Santokhgarh MLA Mukesh Agnihotri, one of Virbhadra’s most trusted lieutenants.
Virbhadra is arguably the only Congress leader with a mass base in the state. The function to mark his 78th birthday on Saturday was attended by 21 of the 23 Congress MLAs, with Thakur and Bali being the only absentees.
The corruption charges against Virbhadra have given the ruling BJP more fodder to target him. “The court order has vindicated our stand against Virbhadra,” said irrigation and public health minister Ravinder Singh Ravi.
“In what capacity would Virbhadra return to state politics? He is neither the PCC president nor the leader of the Opposition,” one of Virbhadra’s detractors told Hindustan Times.
Virbhadra is also keen to establish his son, Vikramaditya Singh, in state politics. Vikramaditya was elected to the post of state Youth Congress president earlier this year, but following a complaint about irregularities and violation of the code of conduct, his election was declared null and void.