The Congress-led Virbhadra Singh government in Himachal Pradesh is trying to bowl out its archrival BJP with a googly ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Political observers say the government's decision to speed up the probe against BJP MP Anurag Thakur-administered Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) and his father Prem Kumar Dhumal, two-time chief minister, is just a shrewd move to push the opposition onto a slippery wicket.
The decision also provides some succour to the government from certain embarrassment during the polls in view of the ongoing legal cases relating to allegations of corruption against Virbhadra Singh, a political observer said.
The state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau last week sought thenod to prosecute BJP leaders - Leader of Opposition Dhumal and his son Thakur, the MP from Hamirpur who is re-contesting - and officials for alleged wrong-doing in allotting land to the HPCA for constructing a players' residential complex near the picturesque stadium in Dharamsala.
It Wednesday got sanction to initiate proceedings against Dhumal but sanction to prosecute Thakur, the joint secretary in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is yet to be sought, said an official, who didn't wish to be identified. Eighteen people have been named in the vigilance chargesheet while five have been made accused.
These five are Dhumal, Thakur, additional chief secretary Deepak Sanan, deputy commissioner Ajay Sharma and additional deputy commissioner Gopal Chand. Sanan and Chand were posted in the revenue department when the land was allotted to the HPCA, while Sharma was the state Youth Services and Sports director.
Interestingly, the entire fraternity of bureaucrats came out in support of their colleagues as the government tightened the noose against the officials. At a meeting held in the state secretariat earlier this week, the IAS lobby expressed anguish over the manner in which some of their colleagues were being targeted by certain IPS (Indian Police Service) officers.
Accusing the government of tarnishing the HPCA's image, BJP spokesperson Ganesh Dutt said the chief minister was using the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau to settle scores with the political rivals during the Lok Sabha elections.
"The chief minister is using the vigilance to target Dhumal and his sons," Dutt told IANS. He said Virbhadra Singh was pressuring the officials to register false cases against Dhumal, the HPCA's patron-in-chief.
"Whenever the chief minister faces an embarrassment or a setback in cases pending against him in various courts, he uses the vigilance bureau as a tool," state BJP president Satpal Satti said.
He said in the last week of March, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) summoned Virbhadra Singh for questioning in a controversy in which a diary entry of Rs.2.80 crore was marked against the initials.
"VBS" during the period when he was steel minister at the centre. "Now as a face-saving exercise, he ordered his officers to speed up the probe against the HPCA," Satti added. The chief minister has, however, denied any wrongdoing during his tenure as steel minister.
Virbhadra Singh, who is at the helm for a record sixth innings, finds himself enmeshed in legal wrangles in at least four cases in barely three months, officials said.
The latest is the state high court ordering the retrial of a criminal defamation case pending against him for over eight years. The other cases pending against Virbhadra Singh include a public suit in the Delhi High Court seeking a court-monitored investigation into allegations of corruption and a directive to the high court to reconsider a plea to implead him in the HPCA row.
The Delhi High Court Wednesday directed the CBI to speed up the probe against Virbhadra Singh.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Siddharth Mridul expressed displeasure at the status report submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation on corruption, money laundering and possession of assets disproportionate to Virbhadra Singh's known sources of income.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause, told the court there were some recent instances of money laundering and corruption by Virbhadra Singh's family members. The court asked the CBI to respond to the fresh allegations, and posted the matter for April 30.