Tough Days Ahead for Raja Sahib: An Imminent Crisis in Himachal 

Is Himachal headed for a political coup as part of Centre’s alleged ‘Congress Mukt campaign’, asks Vipin Pubby.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read


Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh enjoys a camel ride during International Renuka Fair in Sirmour, Himachal on November 22, 2015. (Photo: IANS)

Five-time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh, who is called Raja Sahib due to his royal lineage may finally get cornered, with the courts giving a nod to question him over allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. A political and constitutional crisis is in the offing if he is placed under arrest for custodial interrogation.

The only temporary relief is that the Delhi High Court has asked the CBI not to arrest him without the court’s consent. The Chief Minister, who has alleged that the central agencies had been unleashed against him due to political vindictiveness, has filed for an injunction against his arrest.



Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal comes out of Himachal Pradesh High Court after pleading for Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh in a disproportionate assets case in Shimla on 1 October 2015. (Photo: IANS)
Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal comes out of Himachal Pradesh High Court after pleading for Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh in a disproportionate assets case in Shimla on 1 October 2015. (Photo: IANS)

Constitutional Crisis in the Offing

In case the central agencies propose to arrest him and the court gives its consent, it would be the first time that a sitting CM is arrested without being convicted. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa had resigned in 2014 but only after she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case. While there is no bar on arresting a Chief Minister facing charges,agencies will have to also seek the consent of the Governor before a formal arrest. However, since the Governor is a central nominee and in Himachal Pradesh happens to be a former RSS pracharak, he may not shy away from giving his consent when it is sought.

Virbhadra Singh is known to be a fighter and those close to him say he would not go down easily. He has told his associates that he would run the state from behind bars if it comes to that, but will nominate someone to replace him.

Before the Governor gives his consent he may ask the ruling Congress to elect a new leader. This may be difficult. Even though he had been facing dissidence, the entire party, including all the MLAs, had reposed faith in his leadership at a specially-convened meeting last week.

For the BJP-led NDA it won’t be an easy decision in view of the criticism over its recent machinations in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Its actions in the two hilly states were taken to be a part of its declaration for a “Congress-mukt Bharat“.

Snapshot

Victim of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’?

  • Constitutional crisis looms large in Himachal Pradesh after Delhi High Court allows CBI to interrogate CM Virbhadra Singh.
  • With the Governor being a former RSS pracharak, there’s a likelihood of another Arunachal-like situation unfolding in Himachal.
  • Centre’s actions in Arunachal and Uttarakhand seen to be a part of its declaration for a “Congress-mukt Bharat“.
  • With a history of clashes with BJP henchman, Prem Kumar Dhumal, the CM alleges that the Centre is being vindictive.

Run-in with Political Adversaries

The popularity and following enjoyed by Virbhadra Singh in the state is reflected in the fact that the Congress High Command had to bow to his demand to lead the state unit of the party during the 2012 assembly elections. He was then serving as Union Steel Minister and the Congress had been losing one state after another. He had given ample indications of forming a regional party to contest the elections before the party conceded to his demands and gave him a free hand in selecting candidates.

He had a running battle with former Chief Minister and BJP leader Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal with whom he had been swapping power over the last decade-and-a-half. He had instituted a number of cases and inquiries against Dhumal and his son, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur. Dhumal had in turn ordered investigations into several complaints against Virbhadra Singh. The CM is now alleging that the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income Tax Department has been unleashed against him by Dhumal’s party associate, Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley.



Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh calls on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in New Delhi on December 10, 2015. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh calls on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in New Delhi on December 10, 2015. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Case Against Virbhadra Singh

The ED’s case against him concerns “unaccounted wealth” of about Rs 6 crore. Virbhadra had not mentioned his “agriculture income” from his apple orchard but his aide Anand Chauhan, who is also an insurance agent, had subsequently spent the money in purchasing 19 insurance policies in the name of Virbhadra Singh, his wife and children. The ED case was registered on the basis of CBI’s case of disproportionate assets against him involving the same money. It has now claimed that it was a “textbook case of money laundering” while Virbhadra Singh had described it as a false case emanating from political vengeance.

The CBI case pertains to his stint as the Union Steel Minister in the Congress-led UPA government during 2009-2014. As per the IT department case, Virbhadra had revised his IT returns for three years in 2012 showing an increased income from agriculture to the extent of about Rs 6 crore. He later claimed that it was a mere accounting error by his agent and that he had nothing to hide.

On the Backfoot

Virbhadra, who was first appointed Chief Minister way back in 1983, is not known to either forget or forgive. Soon after coming to power in 2012 he had instituted inquiries and registered cases against Dhumal and his sons.

The latest controversy regarding the shifting of the venue of the World T20 match between India and Pakistan from Dharamsala was also part of the game of one-upmanship between the two political rivals. The subsequent stepping up of the pressure on central agencies to take action against Virbhadra Singh is being seen as a counter move. This time, however, the Chief Minister may find himself on the backfoot.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)

Also Read:
As AAP Gets More Members in Punjab, State Parties Feel the Heat
In Himachal, Virbhadra-Dhumal Tussle Continues Unabated

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