April 2, 2016

Congress Counts Heads In Himachal As Investigators Probe Virbhadra Singh

Vijyender Sharma
New Delhi/Shimla----The Congress has decided to go on the offensive and counter the BJP's demand for the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's resignation over corruption and money laundering charges against him. It will hold protests against the BJP in all districts of the state.

With trouble brewing in yet another hill state ruled by the Congress, the party leadership in New Delhi took stock of the political situation at a meeting of its legislators from the state on Saturday. A small group of legislators within the party could seek Mr Singh's replacement if the Delhi High Court vacates a stay on his arrest, when the matter comes up for hearing on April 4. The party has 36 legislators in the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly.

Mr Singh, who is being investigated by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate or ED on serious corruption charges, arrived at Party leader Ambika Soni's house at noon today, accompanied by 14 Congress legislators.

Sources said Mr Singh has conveyed to the leadership that there is no trouble brewing within the party in Himachal Pradesh. The leadership has been worried over the fate of the Congress-led state government after internal rebellions in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Ms Soni blamed BJP chief Amit Shah for engineering trouble in the two states. "It is a well-planned strategy of the BJP," she said after the meeting. "In our party there are ideological differences but we respect it and accept it...I called this meeting of 15 members, we had an interactive session," the general secretary in-charge of Himachal Pradesh added.

At the meeting, which lasted for over two hours, the party also chalked out a plan to holding protests against the central government's "attack on democracy."

The party is already firefighting a political crisis in Uttarakhand, where nine rebel legislators are threatening to destabilise the state government. "What the centre managed to do in Uttarakhand, they won't be able to do in Himachal Pradesh," said Ms Soni. "I don't see any political crisis there," she said.

Mr Singh however is facing serious charges of corruption and money laundering, with the ED recently attaching his property worth Rs. 8 crore. There have been a series of protests held by the opposition BJP at the state assembly, calling for his resignation.

Mr Singh said, "My conscience is clear. This is a personal vendetta against me by Mr Arun Jaitley."

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