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Virbhadra Singh: Is he a man more sinned against than sinning?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 12 May 2017, 16:50 IST
(Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Is the current CM of Himachal Pradesh, Virbbhadra Singh, a man more sinned against than sinning?

This is the moot question that continues to be debated at length across the state whenever the topic of its chief minister is discussed.

True that he has the odds stacked against him on many fronts, yet he is fighting a single-handed battle justifying his reputation of being a fighter. And the fact remains that the people have not deserted him as his rivals within the Congress and the BJP have been trying to project.

The general perception in Himachal right now with regards to the forthcoming Assembly polls is that between the BJP and victory, stands Virbhadra.

There are many factors that still work in Virbhadra's favour despite efforts from various corners to finish him off politically.

The right (wrong) reasons

Observers point out that he still remains the only leader who has a good direct connect with the masses. And this is something which his detractors acknowledge.

Among the Congressmen, he is the only leader with a pan-Himachal presence

It is a well-known fact that many among the Congress have been miffed over his taking over as the chief minister once again in 2012, and even in 2017, he remains the face of the party.

Another reason for his own flock being annoyed with him is his appointing loyalists as chairmen and vice chairmen of the boards and corporations.

Then there is the allegation of him accommodating his loyalist bureaucrats, post-retirement, by giving them extensions.

But observers who have been monitoring him for more than three decades point out that this is a part of his strategy.

“He has to fortify himself with totally reliable people as people from even within his own party would not let any opportunity to bring him down pass. It is well-known that at this point of time that he has been left to fight his own battle while most of his party leaders have given him a cold shoulder. For them, his loss is always their victory and if he wins again, they can always flock back to him by approaching the high command and through other channels,” said a senior media person based at Shimla.

Observers point out how he was driven by leaders of his own party to announce an unemployment allowance last month and how it was transport minister GS Bali who held a rally on his home turf in Nagrota to 'take credit'.

Ironically, former union minister Chandresh Kumari also turned up at the rally and targeted Virbhadra and Dharamshala MLA Sudhir Sharma, who is a close confidante, in a veiled manner.

Observers also point out how others were responsible for the controversy over a medical college not abiding by the rules, and how Virbhadra was targeted till the time the matter was eventually sorted out.

Now the very same ministers stand aloof having washed their hands off.

According to observers, many senior leaders within the Congress had tried to scuttle the prospects of Virbhadra leading the party into the poll battle in 2012 after he quit as a central minister and was facing allegations of having accumulated disproportionate assets.

“He remains the only leader who can stand up to the party high command. This is well understood by the central Congress leadership. Even in the state, a large number of people feel that only he can keep the Congress united, failing which the party would break into small clusters,” said an observer.

This was why the party high command was compelled to bring him to lead the battle in 2012.

Power play

But one of the biggest criticisms that one gets to hear about Virbhadra is that he has never allowed a second rung of leadership to develop in the state.

“I had once asked him this question and his reply was that he cannot take a hammer and chisel to design effective leaders. They should be coming up because of their own of hard work,” recalled a senior journalist.

While the BJP has been trying to corner him over the money laundering case, it also knows that it cannot go too far.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent rally at the Ridge in Shimla did not go beyond saying that the chief minister spends a major portion of his time in the company of lawyers.

There is a point of view that going too far on the issue can boomerang into Virbhadra getting sympathy for being targeted. The BJP had drawn a lot of flak when Virbhadra's properties were searched by the CBI on the day his daughter was getting married in September 2015.

Observers have pointed out that in 2012 the BJP lost despite the fact that there was no major anti-incumbency against the  Prem Kumar Dhumal-led government and the Congress fortunes were going downhill across the country. But despite that, an 'ugly' campaign against Virbhadra did the BJP in.

Therefore, the BJP cannot afford to go overboard in attacking him.

The man on the ground who identifies himself as 'Rajaji', as Virbhadra is popularly known to his followers, does not believe the corruption charges against him will stand in a court of law or with the public.

“He is a Royal, a Raja. Would he indulge in corruption for such a paltry sum when he has a huge ancestral property. The sum he is accused of having amassed disproportionate to his known sources of income is just a drop in the ocean,” said a resident of Kumarsain.

“The BJP leadership will ensure that he is harassed but not arrested. They cannot afford to make a hero out of him. For the Congress there is no other option but him because the other leaders have a little clout beyond their own constituencies,” said a Kotgarh resident.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 12 May 2017, 16:50 IST