Virbhadra beats all odds for another ‘coronation’

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : The Raja’s own men tried to keep him away from the throne. They fired corruption charges at him. But beating all odds, Virbhadra Singh is set for another ‘coronation’ — his sixth as the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.

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The 78-year-old, popularly known as ‘Raja Saab’ as he was born heir into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, is likely to take oath as chief minister here Dec 25.

The former central minister was formally elected leader of the Congress legislature party Saturday night. His name was cleared for the top post by the central leadership of the Congress party.

“Today I am more grounded and tolerant. My commitment and zeal to the work is the same as it was during my first innings (as chief minister),” Singh told IANS Sunday.

He added that his vast experience — in the state and in the central government — would help to bring the state out of bankruptcy and arrest corruption. He vowed to end red tape.

The septuagenarian, who was chief minister for over 16 years, said: “Bureaucracy is like a horse. If the rider is good, it performs as per his directions. If the rider is inexperienced, the horse will get out of control and master the rider.”

This is a metaphor the chief minister uses often.

Without mincing words, Singh said: “My first priority after taking oath would be to weed out corruption and inefficiency.”

As news of his appointment as chief minister flashed, a large number of supporters from across the state poured into his house, Holly Lodge, in Jakhu hills here. They danced to drums and trumpets.

Accusing the previous BJP government of carrying out political vendetta against him and Congress leaders, Singh, who started his political career by entering the Lok Sabha in 1962, said he was made to face court cases each time Prem Kumar Dhumal came to power.

“Last time (1998-2003) he came, he registered a case against me. Later I came out clean. This time too he has booked me in a corruption case on the basis of an audio CD whose origin is not known,” he said.

Taking a jibe at rivals within his own party, Singh said: “They are my brother and sisters. But sadly they have gone astray.”

Singh resigned as union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises in June after a Shimla court order in a 23-year-old corruption case.

His rivals accuse Singh of hogging all the space for Congress leadership in the state and disallowing others from growing to their potential.

Countering such criticism, Singh asked: “Where were they when I was away from state politics for over three years?”