New Delhi, June 26: As Pranab Mukherjee today resigned from the Union cabinet proudly declaring that he was going to “embark a new journey”, another Congress veteran, Virbhadra Singh, had an ignominious exit from the government because charges were framed against him in a 23-year-old case.
An anguished Virbhadra chose to put in papers without any pressure from the Prime Minister or the Congress leadership which sees little merit in the case based on an audio CD described as “concocted” by the accused.
Congress sources said Virbhadra’s prompt decision to quit was driven more by a political strategy than a sense of guilt. Himachal Pradesh is going to polls in a few months and Virbhadra wanted to acquire a veil of martyrdom, knowing fully well that the voters of the state would attach little significance to the CD that showed conversations on money to clear a project. Himachal has voted him to power after the eruption of this controversy and the politician has decided to make political vendetta by the BJP his main electoral plank.
Soon after submitting his resignation to the Prime Minister, Singh thundered: “There is no truth in the charges. I will fight it out. I have full faith in judiciary and in the court of the people. No one has questioned my integrity in my long career and the people will defeat the BJP’s conspiracy. I quit because I did not want to embarrass the party and the government.” He added: “The CD has not been authenticated. They have not compared my voice.”
In an unusual gesture, the party did not dump him by singing the “law-will-take-its-own-course” ditty. Instead, party leaders expressed surprise at his prompt resignation and contended that the veteran politician must have been hurt by the “malicious” propaganda that he was corrupt.
Virbhadra himself responded to the Team Anna campaign, saying: “They have a place in the society but can’t go here and there pointing fingers at everybody.”
Congress media department chairperson Janardan Dwivedi said: “Virbhadra Singh has taken moral responsibility and resigned. A chargesheet has been filed. But it does not mean that he is guilty. Guilt has not been proven. We hope that he will come out clean and free from the charges and face his adversaries in Himachal Pradesh successfully.”
The AICC general secretary in charge of Himachal Pradesh, Chaudhary Birender Singh, said the party had not asked him to resign.
The 78-year-old Virbhadra, almost unsung in comparison to his colleague who would settle down in the Rashtrapati Bhawan now, is a mass leader who first got elected to Lok Sabha in 1962 and came close to Jawaharlal Nehru.
A five-term Lok Sabha member and seven-time MLA, Virbhadra has been the chief minister of Himachal for five times. Even today, the Congress knows it would be curtains for the party in the hill state if Virbhadra is antagonised.
Although he was holding an insignificant portfolio in the central government — medium and small enterprises — the party could not drop him in the last shuffle only because of his stature.