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'We have the BEST possible PM in Manmohan Singh'

Last updated on: July 20, 2012 09:52 IST

'It is not a case of corruption at all'

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Congress leader Virbhadra Singh recently resigned as the Union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises following allegations of corruption. He tells Kavita Chowdhury how he intends to fight both his detractors and his opponents in the upcoming Himachal Pradesh assembly polls

You recently quit as the Union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises in the wake of a Himachal Pradesh court framing corruption charges against you.

My resignation does not mean that I accept the charges framed against me. It is by no means an admission of guilt. I did not want Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the government or the Congress party to be embarrassed in any way.

Nonetheless, how do you counter these charges?

It is not a case of corruption at all. Twenty years ago, a cassette recording was made and circulated on a CD (compact disc); it wasn't authenticated by anyone. It was a cut-and-paste job.

In those days, there was no CD; it was the era of cassettes only. The session judge has also maintained that as an inadmissible evidence. But, on the basis of two police statements recorded under Section 161 CrPc, the court said it intended to frame the charges.

Significantly, both the witnesses had approached the high court stating these were false statements and were being attributed to them. I resigned on moral grounds. I have also approached the high court and I will emerge unscathed.

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Image: Virbhadra Singh with the Dalai Lama
Photographs: Abhishek Madhukar/Reuters

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'Congress party's attitude towards me hasn't changed'

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Himachal Pradesh will be going to polls later this year. You were hopeful of becoming chief minister for the sixth time (Singh has been the state chief minister five times). Will this case prove to be a setback?

I am fighting my case in court. I am hopeful that the verdict will be out before the elections are held. And even if it doesn't, I am not bothered. The people of the state know the case against me is completely false and bolstered by fabricated evidence. It is the handiwork of incumbent Chief Minister P K Dhumal and Director General of Police D S Minhas.

But do you think it has dampened your prospects of becoming the chief minister again? At least your detractors within the party hope so.

I don't think so. I am taking an active part in the election campaign and want the Bharatiya Janata Party government to be shunted. Since I am a strong leader and enjoy a mass following, it doesn't debar me from any office. As far as my detractors are concerned, let them dream all they want to. Ultimately, the Congress president will decide who will become the chief minister.

I have spent 50 years in the Congress party. This is proof enough of my service to the party, whereas there are so many aaya Rams and gaya Rams (those who come and go), who are biding their chances now.

In the Congress party, you have always been respected and considered one of the tallest leaders from Himachal Pradesh. Has all that changed now?

The Congress party's attitude towards me hasn't changed at all. In fact, these false charges that have been levelled against me have further consolidated my support base. No one had asked me to resign as the Union minister. I took the decision myself, as I did not want the government to be attacked by the Opposition. In fact, I was appointed the chairman of the campaign committee, after the charges were levelled. This shows the party's continued faith in me.

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Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

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'TIME magazine is certainly not the Magna Carta'

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You have said in public that the Congress should break from its tradition and declare its chief ministerial candidate before the polls.

It is my personal opinion that the party should declare its chief ministerial candidate before the polls. The final call lies with the Congress president. And, not just the Congress, every party should declare its chief minister; it matters to the people when they cast their votes and make their choices.

In Himachal Pradesh, it has always been a case of alternating terms in power for the BJP and the Congress. This time, the Congress was likely to win back the state. But the BJP's prospects have been emboldened with this corruption case. Do you think the Congress prospects in the assembly polls have been affected?

Dhumal and his government have lost face in the public after they brought this false case against me. The Congress' chances, on the other hand, are bright. The BJP government in the state has been marked by poor performance; the development process has almost come to a halt, corruption is rampant and the state is on sale. The biggest power brokers and land brokers are close to Dhumal. Contractors have a free hand. The 8.5 per cent growth rate being shown today is exactly where we had left the state five years ago. So, the progress has become stagnant.

The United Progressive Alliance-II government has been rocked by a string of scams. In fact, it is being characterised by 'policy paralysis'. Now, even TIME magazine has termed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as 'the underachiever'.

The whole thing started with the 2G spectrum episode. But the case is still in the courts and yet to be proven. We have the best possible Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh.

TIME magazine is certainly not the Magna Carta for us. I don't subscribe to this policy paralysis terminology. Rather, in the last two Parliament sessions, it has been the Opposition not allowing Parliament to function or pass important legislations.

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'Rahul is young, dynamic, forward-looking'

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Recently, Rahul Gandhi was in Kullu to flag off the Congress' election campaign in Himachal Pradesh. On the basis of Gandhi's recent track record, he has failed to deliver on his promises, including in Uttar Pradesh, where the party fared poorly under him. Does it make sense to showcase him again?

Gandhi has yet not taken up a constitutional post. How can one say he has failed? If he is given such a post and does not succeed, then we can make such a statement. We cannot make value judgments now. He tried his best in Uttar Pradesh. He is young, dynamic, forward-looking and has all good leadership qualities.

The Congress unit of the state has been plagued by factionalism. In fact, the central leadership needed to intervene.

Which family or political party doesn't have groups or factions within it? This does not stop the forward march of the party.

You have completed five decades in politics. Your contemporary and another veteran Pranab Mukherjee is headed for Rashtrapati Bhavan. Do you have similar aspirations?

I am happy with my present situation. I have enjoyed my stint in the state and at the Centre. I have gained a lot of experience as a Member of Parliament and learnt a lot in the Cabinet -- from Indira Gandhi's to Manmohan Singh's.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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