Union minister Virbhadra Singh resigned today in the wake of a Himachal court order to frame corruption charges against him, the third minister in UPA-II to step down on similar grounds.
A five-time chief minister of Himachal, 78-year-old Singh, the union minister for small, micro and medium industries, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his Race Course Residence before announcing his resignation.
"I have given my papers to the Prime Minister," he said. The Prime Minister has accepted his resignation and forwarded it to President Pratibha Patil, PMO sources said.
Virbhadra Singh, a veteran Congress leader, said he had resigned on moral grounds. "No one asked me to quit. This is my moral duty as I did not want to embarrass my party, PM or government," he told reporters.
Singh's decision came a day after the Himachal court framed charges of corruption and criminal misconduct against him and his wife Pratibha Singh in a 23-year-old case, saying there was sufficient evidence to proceed against them.
The minister, who had met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday evening, dismissed as "totally fabricated" the allegations against him.
Singh said his resignation should not be seeing as an admission of guilt as he was going to fight the case to its logical conclusion.
He also sought to turn it into a political battle against the BJP, ruling Himachal, ahead of the assembly elections in the state later this year.
Accusing the Prem Kumar Dhumal government in Himachal of leveling "concocted" charges against him, Singh trained his guns at the chief minister, describing him as the "most corrupt and biggest lier in Himachal Pradesh".
"In the last 50 years, I have handled many portfolios like tourism and steel and during my tenure nobody has questioned my integrity or that of my family," he said.
He said the chief minister is turning Himachal into states like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, where political detractors are targeted.
"When we came to power, we thought we should not make HP like Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it has become a trend that whenever a new government comes to power, they start levelling charges against ministers in the previous government," he added.
Singh is the third union minister to resign in UPA-II. Corruption allegations have already cost DMK leaders A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran their cabinet posts.