A day after graft charges were slapped against him by a Himachal Pradesh court in a 23-year-old case, Union minister for micro, small and medium industries Virbhadra Singh on Monday resigned from the cabinet on moral grounds.
"No one asked me to quit. This is my moral duty as I did not want to embarrass my party (the Congress), the PM or the government," he said.
Virbhadra Singh, a five-time Himachal Pradesh CM, submitted his resignation to PM Manmohan Singh, who forwarded it to the President for acceptance. Science and technology minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has been given the additional charge of his ministry.The resignation came a day after he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Along with A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, who belonged to the DMK, Virbhadra is the third cabinet minister in UPA II to have resigned on graft charges.
He intends to devote full time to fight the case. "I want to catch the bull by its horns. I am not afraid of facing trial ...," he said.
Sources close to him said the veteran leader sought to turn it into a political battle against the ruling BJP in the assembly elections, to be held later this year.
On its part, the Congress stood behind him, insisting that his culpability in the case had not been established. "We hope he will come out clean and free from charges," party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said.
Former minister Vijay Singh Mankotia, who was instrumental in releasing the controversial CD supposedly having incriminating evidence against Virbhadra, said the court's verdict vindicated his position.
The promptness with which Virbhadra resigned apparently signals his eagerness to return to state politics.
"Going by his high standards of politics, Virbhadra Singh resigned voluntarily," said Santokhgarh MLA Mukesh Agnihotri, one of his most trusted lieutenants.
He is also keen to establish his son Vikramaditya in state politics. Vikramaditya was elected as state Youth Congress president, but following a complaint about irregularities, his election was declared null and void.