Even as revellers thronged the hill state for New Year festivities, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh dashed to New Delhi on Tuesday along with his troubleshooters, apparently to clarify his position before the Congress high command over senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley's scathing allegations against him. Jaitley had on Monday accused Virbhadra of taking bribe from a company, Venture Engg and Tech Pvt Ltd, for a hydroelectric power project in HP.
Earlier on Tuesday, Virbhadra returned to the capital town here in the afternoon after completing the first phase of his winter sojourn to the politically significant Kangra district. He neither attended office nor went to his residence, but waited for his loyalist, industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri, at the helipad before taking off for Delhi.
The CM remained at the helipad for nearly one hour, holding discussions with his coterie of political leaders and retired bureaucrats. Virbhadra's son Vikramaditya Singh, who recently took over the reins of the state Congress youth wing, accompanied him to Delhi. Other who went along included urban development minister Sudhir Sharma and forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri, who had accompanied the CM from Dharamsala, besides Virbhadra's staff principal secretary VC Pharka, retired additional chief secretary TG Negi and principal private secretary Subhash Ahluwalia (a retired bureaucrat).
Bureaucrats also carried important files related to recent controversies, including the ones about the allotment of the hydroelectric project and the extensions given to Venture, owned by one Vakamullah Chandershekhar.
Under intense attack from the opposition BJP, Virbhadra is likely to call on All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Ambika Soni, party incharge for Himachal affairs. He is also likely to meet AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Accusing Virbhadra of corruption, Jaitley had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director to look into the charges. At a press conference in Delhi, the BJP leader had alleged that Virbhadra favoured the company (Venture), which had defaulted on the contract allotted to it for executing the project. Jaitley wanted to know from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi about the party's action against Virbhadra in what he termed as the "most open-and-shut case of corruption.
Meanwhile, former Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal's elder son Anurag Thakur, member of Parliament from Hamirpur and national president of the BJP's youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, held a vociferous protest outside Rahul's residence in Delhi, seeking Virbhadra's resignation. The Delhi police had to use water cannons to disperse agitating activists of the BJYM.
Sources told Hindustan Times that pressure was mounting on Virbhadra to step down, as his detractors lately regrouped over a dinner hosted by Vidhan Sabha speaker Brij Bihari Burtail during the five-day winter session in Dharamsala. More than one dozen legislators had gathered at Butail's dinner and openly vented their ire against Virbhadra.