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'I won't be vindictive to Dhumal'

The aging patriarch and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh (78) is a force to reckon with in Himachal Pradesh's poll arena. Known for his never-say-die spirit, the old warhorse is fighting the last battle of his political career that has spanned over 50 years. Singh unravels some intriguing facets of his life in a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times senior reporter Gaurav Bisht. Stating that he compromised with his archrival Vijai Singh Mankotia for party's sake only, the veteran Congress leader says he will not be vindictive to chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. Excerpts:

chandigarh Updated: Oct 18, 2012 19:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

The aging patriarch and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh is a force to reckon with in Himachal Pradesh's poll arena. Known for his never say die spirit, the old warhorse is fighting the last battle of his political career that has spanned over 50 years. Singh unravels some of the most intriguing facets of his life in a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times correspondent Gaurav Bisht. Stating that he compromised with his archrival Vijai Singh Mankotia only for party's sake, the veteran Congress leader speaks of not being vindictive to chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Each time around the election, you have faced one or the other allegation. This time your name has cropped up in connection with Ispat group.
The BJP knew my potential all along. They want to damage my clean image by launching a false propaganda. During the previous regime also, Dhumal tried to frame me in false cases. He tried to frame me in the Sagar Katha case, which was dismissed by the sessions court and Himachal Pradesh high court. This time also, he (Dhumal) has started the same old things. He has come up with the alleged compact disc case. I was not very keen on this matter. I withdrew my case from the high court and did not go to the Supreme Court. I went to the sessions court and wanted the charges to be framed and face the trial.

Q Can you elaborate on the controversy surrounding Ispat group.
What has appeared in the media is totally false and fabricated. I do not remember that during my tenure as steel minister I met this gentleman more than once. Most important thing is that during my tenure, the government did not give any concession to this gentleman. If I had given him some concession than only there is a reason to believe that something wrong was done. This is clear-cut case of money laundering. The gentleman was sending money through hawala transaction and made fictitious entries in a diary. What is being referred to VBS is also not true as my initials are VB. Entries in the diary have directly named Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Why is the BJP silent on that? If they want to hold any inquiry I am ready to face it.

Q You are often accused of promoting dynastic rule? Your wife remained Lok Sabha member. Did you seek ticket for her this time?
Dynastic politics is just tip of the iceberg. It only is molecular representation of people in the country's polity. How many people would be there from dynastic clans in politics? I was not promoted by anybody in politics, but was selected by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri and then by Indira Gandhi. I was asked to contest the Lok Sabha election from Mahasu parliamentary seat in 1962. I have completed 50 years in politics and have always remained in the Congress. I have not left the party under any circumstances. I am not an 'Aya Ram, Gaya Ram'.

Did you seek ticket for your wife Pratibha Singh this time?
Yes, I did. I was given to understand that she would be given ticket because last time she was denied ticket from Rohru. But I never pressed for it.

Your son Vikramaditya won the youth Congress organisational elections with a huge margin. In spite of that the elections were declared null and void. Do you regret that?
I do not want to comment on that. The election process was a total fiasco.

You have been chief minister five times, still you were keen on becoming the party president that too just before the elections.
That was the feeling of the party that we would be able to win.

Your detractors say Virbhadra Singh arm-twisted the high command for becoming party president. Did you ever threaten to quit party?
These kinds of allegations are intended at character assassination. I neither approached anybody nor intentioned to do such a thing. I am in the Congress and will remain in the party till my last breath. I was never approached either by the Nationalist Congress Party or Trinamool Congress. These two parties have opened their shops during the election time. At least, I was never approached by anybody.

You had demanded to be declared as chief ministerial candidate ahead of polls. But the experiment failed in Punjab.
That was my personal opinion.

Has the high command been fair with you?
I have always abided by the high command's decision. I was among one of the most senior ministers in the government. High command has full faith in me. This is the reason that I was sent back to the state just before the elections. What complain can I have?

All this while you had differences with senior Congress leader Vidya Stokes. Now both of you have sunk differences. What really transpired between you and Stokes?
I never had any differences with anybody at any time. This time too, I am helping everyone around.

Vijai Singh Mankotia had accused you of corruption in every nook and cranny and just before the elections you patched up with him and also attended a joint meeting with him in Shahpur.
I said it publically in Shahpur (Mankotia's hometurf) that his entry in the party is only a political compulsion. I have personal differences with him. In spite of these differences, he was brought back in the larger interest of the party. His entry will strengthen the party.

Are you confident that Congress will form the next government?
It is not just a wish, but the predictions are based on my interaction with people and their response during my extensive tour of the state. I know the people of Himachal Pradesh very well. I know what they feel now.

Will you like to be chief minister for the sixth time? What if the high command uses you in the elections and then dump you? What will you do?
The party has reposed faith in me before the elections. Why will the high command not trust me after the elections? Prime minister Manmohan Singh, AICC president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi have reposed faith in me. I too have full faith in all of them.

The prevailing anti-Congress mood in the nation could affect party's chances in HP. What impact diesel price hike and rationing of LPG cylinders could have on HP elections?
People of Himachal Pradesh are wise enough to understand the central government's compulsions in capping LPG use. When the Congress comes to power we will give subsidy on three more LPG cylinders.

You are often accused of being vindictive. What will you do to chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal after the Congress comes back to power?
Like him (Dhumal), I will not be vindictive. Neither will I follow the politics of vendetta. The matter of corruption will be thoroughly investigated and we will proceed against corrupt as per the law.

Do you have any regrets?
I regret that I was approached to join politics. My first reaction was no to politics. I rather wanted to be a professor or lecturer. Late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri convinced me at that time that my generation owes it to the nation. People around me and even at my home were surprised when they heard the announcement on radio.

First Published: Oct 17, 2012 21:12 IST