Last month, Union Minister Virbhadra Singh was booked on corruption charges. The complaint was based on a conversation recorded on a 23-year-old CD. The IAS officer Singh is reportedly talking to in the CD died a long time ago, but former Congress minister Vijai Singh Mankotia is hell-bent on registering a case against Singh.
Mankotia has often revolted against Singh. He backed Rani Bhagyawati when she accused Singh of having an illicit relationship with a woman. Singh sued both for defamation. It is another matter that Mankotia later joined Singh’s cabinet in Himachal Pradesh.
The credit for Singh’s initiation into politics goes to the country’s second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who wanted young people to join public life. Singh, barely 26 then, entered Parliament in 1962 and state politics in Himachal Pradesh 20 years later.
In 1983, when Indira Gandhi wanted him to replace Ram Lal Thakur as chief minister, Singh was reluctant. “I saw it as an end to my career in Delhi,” he told HT.
Yes and no. Yes, because he returned to Delhi after a gap of 26 years —this time as a minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. No, because his links with Delhi remained intact.
It was with élan that he handled matters in the state both as chief minister or as leader of the opposition in the assembly.
Of course, there were detractors like Vidya Stokes, the current leader of the opposition in the state assembly. Once his ally, Stokes was upstaged in the power game despite the Congress leadership’s keenness to have a woman head the state. Today, Singh and Stokes are sworn enemies.
“People change with time. We were friends but he saw me as competition. Besides, people resent women who do well,” Stokes told HT.
Singh’s connectivity with people is his USP. Scandals may have tarnished his political record but people swear by his integrity. That may explain why he was elected chief minister and MP five times and has rarely lost an election.
Born a royal, Singh is Raja Sahib, the king, for Himachalis. His father, Raja Padam Singh, died young and Singh, a schoolboy, was proclaimed the ruler. Even today, people queue up at his Shimla home for monetary assistance. Singh remains a force to reckon in his home state.
Congress functionary Mukesh Agnihotri said, “He has played a long innings, is still batting and not out. He is the only one who can take on the BJP, so they are hounding him. Corruption cases are nothing but political vendetta.”