Political pot-shot over Himachal CM's loan

Shimla, Oct 26 (IANS) Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is popularly known as `Raja Saab', has taken a combative stand after his honesty and integrity were questioned on raising a personal loan of Rs.3.90 crore. Virbhadra Singh has said that nobody has questioned his integrity in all his tenures, in the state and in the central government.

Breaking a silence almost a fortnight after former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's sons Anurag Thakur and Arun Dhumal accused him and his parliamentarian wife Pratibha Singh of raising an unsecured loan from an individual, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said: "As an individual, I have every right to raise a loan."

"Nobody has ever raised a finger ever on my honesty and integrity. I was made to face court cases each time Dhumal came to power," he told reporters here Tuesday.

At the same time he questioned the senior Dhumal, asking him to clarify which section of the law he has violated by taking the loan.

"There is nothing to hide. My income tax returns and the election affidavits have clearly reflected that I and my wife have raised loans. So where is the question of any wrongdoing?" said the 78-year-old, popularly known as 'Raja Saab' as he was born heir into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr.

Without mincing words, he said the Dhumals have started a malicious campaign against him since the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau booked both Dhumals - Anurag Thakur and Arun - for allegedly grabbing land near Dharamsala by forging revenue records.

"Every day media reports carry quotes of 'Aira-Gaira Nathu Khaira' (Tom, Dick and Harry) raising unsubstantiated charges against me," Virbhadra Singh said, adding he "has no personal enmity with the Dhumal family".

Just a few hours after his assertions, Dhumal's son Arun again challenged the chief minister by accusing him of unleashing political vendetta against him, his father and his brother Anurag Thakur, who is MP and president of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA).

"Let the chief minister choose the date, place and time for a debate on the allegations of corruption and land deals against us," he said in a statement.

Political observers say it's political fight between the chief minister and the Dhumals only.

"In his last tenure (2007-12) Dhumal got Virbhadra Singh and his wife booked in a 23-year-old corruption case on the basis of an audio CD whose origin was not known. Later both came out clean," said an observer.

Now Virbhadra Singh is paying back the Dhumals in the same coin by initiating probes against them, he said.

But so far the BJP has been maintaining stoic silence on the issue of raising loan by the chief minister.

"It's the 'Pita' (father) who is coming to defend his 'putras' (sons) and vice versa, whereas the party's other leaders are quiet. This clearly indicates the party is no mood to support misdeeds of the Dhumals," said a senior Congress leader.

Earlier this month, Arun Dhumal questioned the rationale behind the chief minister and his wife raising an unsecured loan of Rs.3.90 crore from one Vakamulla Chander Sekhar of New Delhi.

A confident Dhumal asked the chief minister: "Money lending is illegal. Has he not committed an offence?"

"Where has he invested the (borrowed) money, the people want to know," Dhumal told IANS.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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