New Delhi(PTI): Union Minister Virbhadra Singh resigned today in the wake of a Himachal Pradesh court framing corruption charges against him, the third minister in UPA-II to step down on similar grounds.
A five-time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, 78-year- old Singh, the Union Minister for Small, Micro and Medium Industries, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his Race Course Residence before announcing his resignation.
“I have given my papers to the Prime Minister,” he said. The Prime Minister has accepted his resignation and forwarded it to President Pratibha Patil, PMO sources said.
Virbhadra Singh, a veteran Congress leader, said he has resigned on moral grounds. “No one asked me to quit. This my moral duty as I did not want to embarrass my party, PM or government,” he told reporters.
Singh’s decision came a day after the Himachal court framed charges of corruption and criminal misconduct against him and his wife Pratibha Singh in a 23-year-old case, saying there was sufficient evidence to proceed against them.
The minister, who had met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last evening, dismissed as “totally fabricated” the allegations against him. He also sought to turn it into a political battle against the ruling BJP ahead of the Assembly elections in the state later this year.
Accusing the Prem Kumar Dhumal government of levelling “concocted” against him, Singh trained his guns at the Chief Minister, describing him as the “most corrupt and biggest lier in Himachal Pradesh”.
“In the last 50 years, I have handled many portfolios like tourism and Steel and during my tenure nobody has questioned my integrity or that of my family,” he said. Singh said his resignation should not be seeing as an admission of guilt as he was going to fight the case to the logical conclusion.
He said the Chief Minister is turning Himachal into states like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, where political detractors are targeted. “When we came to power, we thought we should not make HP like Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it has become a trend that whenever a new Government comes into power they start making charges on the ministers in the previous government,” he added.
Singh is the third Union Minister to resign in UPA-II. Corruption allegations have already cost DMK leaders – A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran their cabinet posts.
Charges were framed against Singh and his wife under Section 120 B (conspiracy) of IPC and Sections 7,11 and 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) dealing with bribery and criminal misconduct.
The case against Singh goes back to 1989 when he was Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The charges are based on an audio CD that purportedly contains a conversation with IAS officer Mohinder Lal during which they allegedly discussed kick-backs from industrialists who wanted to set up shop in the state.
They were booked in the case on August 3, 2009, on the basis of the CD released by his arch rival in the Congress and former minister Vijay Singh Mankotia in May 2007 and the prosecution filed the case in the court of special judge in October 2010.
While BJP insisted that the resignation has come after a “lot of public pressure”, the Congress sought to project a moral high ground by saying that his guilt in the corruption case had not yet been established.
“Better late than never,” BJP Spokesperson J P Nadda, who also hails from Himachal Pradesh, said.
AICC General Secretary 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”.
A combative Singh declared that he will fight the BJP tooth and nail.
“I will fight against them at every level…I am free from here (Centre) now I will give all my time,” he said rejecting suggestions that the case has spoiled his chances of becoming the next chief minister.
Besides, he sought to project the case against him as an insult to the state. “This is not the question of my respect, it is the question of Himachal Pradesh’s respect,” he said adding he has full trust in the court and the “people’s court in thë state”.
He also dismissed the charges levelled by Team Anna against him and wondered as to why it was not seeing the corruption done by the Dhumal government.
He said he has already threatened to file a defamation case against Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal.