Shimla: An old war horse, who could not be put down by allegations of corruption or infighting in the Congress, Virbhadra Singh steered the party back to power in Himachal Pradesh with a spirited campaign this time. The seventy-eight-year-old veteran became chief minister of the state for the sixth time, setting a record.
In a major relief to him, a court here on Monday acquitted him of charges of corruption and conspiracy in the much-publicised audio CD case. "No case is made out as not even a single witness supported the prosecution evidence," Special Judge BL Soni said pronouncing the judgement in an open court absolving the Congress leader in a matter relating to his tenure as CM in 1989 after a trial that started in September this year.
In his five-decade long political innings, he has been a seven-time MLA, a five-time MP and five-time Chief Minister. He has also been a four-time President of the State Congress and represents the Mandi seat in the present Lok Sabha. Singh was Chief Minister between 1983 and 85; 1985 and 1990; 1993 and 1998 and 2003 and 2007.
Scion of Himachal Pradesh's erstwhile royal state of Rampur Bushehar, Singh was educated in Bishop Cotton School at Shimla and St Stephen's College, New Delhi, Virbhadra Singh stands as the tallest among the stalwarts of state Congress. Even though his detractors accuse him of being 'feudal' and 'inflexible' in his style of functioning, his amiable nature has earned respect among the people of the hill state.
For Singh, the current election was the biggest political challenge of his life. It was literally a make-or-break election for the battle-scarred veteran who was virtually fighting a lone battle, one that was dotted with a series of corruption allegations from the BJP. Under his leadership, the faction-ridden State Congress emerged victorious at a time when it faced heat due to corruption and price rise at the Centre.
Singh also fought personal corruption charges levelled against him just ahead of the current polls and emerged stronger even now. A political heavyweight, Singh has proved that he can be down but not out. Attempts by the Congress to sideline him after his resignation from the Union Cabinet in the wake of corruption charges against him also failed and he resurrected as a force to reckon. His known detractors like Sukh Ram have now come out openly in his favour.
For Virbhadra, however, controversies and struggles are not new. Carted out of Himachal in 2007 when the party lost the state to the BJP, Singh was made a union minister in 2009. Only recently Virbhadra received another blow after his son Vikramaditya's election as the state youth Congress chief was set aside and he was debarred from running again.
Then came a series of political allegations against Virbhadra including the one following the release of an Income Tax Investigation which said some "VBS" received kickbacks from a steel company in exchange for favours. The case dated back to the time when Virbhadra was steel minister but he vehemently denied the allegations and went to the people with a simple message that his detractors were trying to malign his reputation.
He was sent by the Congress to Himachal in 1983 to replace the then tallest leader Ram Lal following large scale felling of forests. The victory for the gritty leader, who holds a major sway in upper Himachal, has been more than just sweet as it came amidst corruption allegations against him.
The campaign was tougher this year after the Congress Party declared its reform agenda including a cap on subsidized LPG and a raise in diesel prices. But Singh bounced back to silence his critics in the party and did not allow Punjab to be repeated in Himachal. Born on June 23, 1934, Singh succeeded to the position of king of the state at the age of 13 in 1947. After joining Congress in 1961, Singh entered Lok Sabha for the first time in 1962 from Mahasu constituency when Himachal Pradesh was part of Punjab and was the youngest member of this 3rd Lok Sabha.
He again won in 1967 and won from Mandi seat in 1971, where he repeated in 1980 and then again in 2009. There is no other member in the present Lok Sabha to have entered the lower House before him. Between 1976 and 1977, Singh was Deputy Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation at the Centre and Minister of State for Industries between 1980 and 1983.
Since May, 2009 until January, 2011, he was the Union Steel Minister and was shifted to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Ministry until his resignation in June this year. He has also been elected seven times to Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly. The first occasion was in a by-election in October 1983, when he was returned for the Jubbal-Kotkhai constituency. He won that seat again in the 1985 elections.
Thereafter, he was elected from the Rohru constituency in 1990, 1993, 1998 and 2003. He had also been president of the State Congress Committee in 1977, 1979 and 1980. In July 2012, he quit from all key party posts at a crucial time just ahead of the current polls.