Six-time octogenarian chief minister Virbhadra Singh, whose political career spans over 50 years, snubs his detractors for fixing retirement age for political leaders. The 81-year-old Congress stalwart also takes a dig at his opponents aspiring to overthrow him. Notwithstanding ongoing cases in courts and raids conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation at his residence, he remains unperturbed. Hindustan Times interviews the popular leader, who talks about development agenda of his government for the next two years.
How would you rate your government’s performance in 2015?
It’s been all right. My government has been able to achieve goals in many fields such health, education and infrastructure development. The government has a 1,370-km new road network in the state. In the coming two years, my government’s focus will be on sprucing up the road network. The current government has set up 917 senior secondary schools .The very fact that there are more girl students in schools and colleges is matter of great personal satisfaction for me. To overcome the shortage of doctors, the government is mulling to increase the retirement age of doctors from 62 years to 65 years, provided they are willing to serve at three upcoming medical colleges in Hamirpur, Chamba and Nahan.
The state government is providing ration to public at subsidised rates . My government had also given a free-travel facility to government school students. Students under Rajiv Gandhi digital Vidyarthi Yojana were being given 10,000 free net books. An AIIMS-like hospital is coming up soon at Bilaspur. Today, there are 94 colleges in the state. As many as 24 new colleges have been opened during the last three years besides 719 schools were upgraded.
The CBI and ED this year filed cases against you and your family members. They also conducted raids at you house. Was it the toughest year of your long political career?
My political career spans more than 50 years and I have seen many upheaval. The year that went by was not tough at all. I have done nothing wrong. Certain people misused the central authority for their vested interest to destabilise my government and harass me. I took all these things in my stride. This is not for the first time that I have faced inquiries. In the past, the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP falsely implicated me in cases, but I was honourably acquitted. Their (detractors) strategy has been to disturb me, but it makes no difference at all to me.
The two agencies levelled very serious charges against you. Haven’t these cases weakened your position and emboldened leaders within the party who are aspiring for CM’s post?
I’m threat to nobody. In democracy, no one is threat to anyone. The BJP has been gunning for me as they perceive me as a threat. They fear my popularity, my mass base and public image. However, in no way these cases have weakened my position. What has been the outcome of the cases so far? The attempts of my detractors to hit me politically and personally have been feeble, flimsy and untenable. My detractors can only cling to hope and I let them nurture their aspirations. I can only wish them good luck.
Health minister Kaul Singh Thakur raked up the retirement age issue recently. What’s your take?
As long as one is delivering and living up to the expectations of the people and the party, there is no age of retirement in politics. No one retires in politics and those who are talking about retirement age in politics should rather quit politics. Politicians never retire. Even when there is no electoral field available for a politician, he can be a mentor and a guide for the next generation. So far, I have not seen politicians retiring.
You keep shuttling between Shimla and Delhi frequently. Doesn’t it affect governance?
The governance has not been affected at all by my tours. I had to frequently go to Delhi as there was an extra burden on me to defend myself and my position. However, the operations of the government weren’t affected. Decisions on issues of public importance were taken promptly. Cabinet and other crucial meetings were held on time. Even being outside the state, I ensured that files pertaining to various matters were cleared expeditiously. I remained in touch with officials concerned and my cabinet colleagues.
The government launched inquiries against Dhumal and his sons, but your closed-door meeting with him after the raids raised several eyebrows. What transpired between the two of you?
An inquiry against Dhumal is one thing and meeting with him is something different. Dhumal had met me but he did not discuss his cases or inquiries with me nor did I. It was just a general meeting ahead of the Vidhan Sabha session. Nothing transpired between us.
Inquiries against Dhumal aren’t going anywhere. A case related to re-employment of an IPS officer was quashed by the high court? Will you move the Supreme Court?
It’s wrong to say that inquires against Dhumal were not going anywhere. Investigations take time. In the IPS officer case, we will approach the Supreme Court. This is a fit case to be challenged in the apex court. Inquiries against Dhumal are being held on complaints filed by former additional director general of police (ADGP) BS Thind. I am sure that I will get an inquiry report pertaining to his properties by January-end.
You and senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar never miss any opportunity to praise each other. What’s your understanding with him?
I have always respected decent people. Shanta Kumar is a decent man. I praise him out of respect. I don’t have any understanding with him.
What’s going to be your top priority in 2016?
My foremost priority will be to boost health and education sectors and generate more jobs. Our focus will also be on ensuring road network in every villages The four-laning of Kiratpur- Manali stretch and Parwanoo- Shimla link is underway. Our aim is to strengthen the health sector to provide affordable facilities in rural and far-flung areas.
Do you foresee tougher times ahead?
I’ve seen time when there was no funding from the Centre. The grants assured by the Centre are being received well in time. The new dispensation at the Centre has eased the situation. I have personally expressed my gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I don’t foresee a tough time ahead for the government and the party. Earlier, a lot of uncertainty was prevailing due to misconceptions on Niti Aayog but gradually things have settled down.