HImachal polls: Graft slur wins sympathy for Virbhadra Singh

Shimla (TIP): Contrary to expectations, corruption charges being levelled against Himachal PCC president Virbhadra Singh, instead of being an embarrassment for the party, have started winning him sympathy in his constituency.

Curiously in his constituency there are hardly any buyers of the allegations being drum-beated by the BJP. “They are victimising him for no reasons,” says Ram Bhagwan in Dabol village.

Chandokh Singh, a retired chief medical officer, concurs and says that Virbhadra, coming from a royal family, enjoys uninterrupted loyalty of the people. “It might sound typical of Himachal Pradesh, but it is a fact that the corruption charges are not sticking to him at all,” he said.

The five-time chief minister, who is contesting from the Shimla (rural), has just toured his constituency once. He is focusing on the party campaign all over the state regardless of the opposition’s tirade against him. Being a trump card of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh has helped him dismiss the corruption charges. After being forced to quit the Union cabinet in the wake of a local special court framing charges of corruption against him, Virbhadra faced another barrage of allegations for his alleged deals with the Ispat Industries to be followed by the Income Tax department findings about unexplained deals.

While Virbhadra has dismissed corruption charges saying it is a BJP ploy to malign him, there has been a strong feeling among the Congress leaders that even if the corruption charges do not translate into loss of votes for the Congress, they might mar his chances of becoming CM again in case the party comes to power after the elections.
“Voters might not care about the charges, but the high command is likely to take strong view of it after the elections,” said a former party office-bearer. In fact, graft charges against him have made little dent in his image. Even as he quit the union cabinet in June last following charges of corruption framed by a special court in Shimla, the Congress high command entrusted him with the task of leading the party campaign and made him the PCC president barely a month before the elections were announced.

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In July last, in a huff, he quit the election committee as the party high command sought to sideline him amidst corruption charges. But his threat to break away from the party and join hands with Sharad Pawar unnerved the Congress high command which decided to hand over the party’s electoral reigns to him. He had a near free hand in picking candidates for the party and has been campaigning state wide. Allegations of corruption aside, Virbhadra still has a long list of detractors in the party. Even Union commerce minister Anand Sharma, who was here to release the manifesto, ducked questions related to allegations against him.

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