Senior Congress leader Virbhadra Singh was desiring to return to politics in Himachal Pradesh, where he has served five terms as chief minister. His resignation from the union cabinet - after corruption charges were framed agaisnt him - has moved him one step closer to returning to state politics, his loyalists say.
"This is what he has been wanting for a long time," remarked a former Congress minister from the state.
He said Virbhadra Singh was never much comfortable in the corridors of power in Delhi and had for long been nurturing the desire to return to state politics ahead of the assembly polls due later this year.
"Of course, a court order has proved to be a blessing in disguise for him as it paves the way for his return to the state," his loyalist said. After being charged by a Shimla court in a corruption case, Virbhadra Singh on Tuesday put in his papers as union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises.
After submitting his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi, Virbhadra Singh told IANS: "Now I am ready to return to the state and to fight the battle on two fronts." "I will fight it out both at the grassroots (to strengthen the party ahead of the assembly elections) and in the courts," he added.
Interestingly, some of his party colleagues, especially a faction supported by another union minister belonging to the hill state, are not happy with the development that Raja Saab, as Virbhadra Singh is popularly known in Himachal Pradesh, will re-enter the state's political scene where he enjoys a lot of support from the common man and he will overshadow them.
In hushed tones, his critics said the court order and subsequent legal battle would sound the death knell for the former union minister's political career. They said even his wife Pratibha Singh's claim for ticket for the next assembly polls has suffered a jolt after the framing of charges against her.
In a 2009 assembly by-poll, she unsuccessfully contested for the Rohru seat after Virbhadra Singh shifted to New Delhi by winning the Lok Sabha election in May that year.
But then, the road ahead for Virbhadra Singh could prove rocky. A day after the court order, state party chief Kaul Singh, who is also in the race for chief minister, told reporters that he himself has all the qualities to become a chief minister.
Legislator and former minister G.S. Bali was evasive on Virbhadra Singh's leadership. "It's the prerogative of the high command to finalise the name of the chief minister (after the polls)," he told reporters in Shimla on Thursday.
Interestingly, two days before the court verdict Virbhadra Singh's supporters virtually declared him the next chief minister with a show of strength at a public rally in Shimla. The rally was organised to celebrate his 78th birthday and completion of 50 years in politics.
Political observers say if the elections are conducted under Virbhadra Singh's leadership and the party returns to power, then his legislators could force the high command to declare him the chief minister. His clout in state politics can be gauged from the fact that 16 out of 23 Congress legislators have resolved to stand behind him even after the court order.
"The BJP government has carried out a political vendetta against him but the entire Congress is with him," said Leader of Opposition Vidya Stokes. Virbhadra Singh, who belongs to the former royal family of Bushehr, began his political career at the age of 27 when he was elected as MP in 1962. Since then, he has won five Lok Sabha elections.
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