In Himachal Pradesh, BJP struggles to recover from charges of corruption

BJP leaders in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh seem to have taken the Prime Minister’s exhortation to turn the disaster into an opportunity seriously is the joke doing the rounds

In Himachal Pradesh, BJP struggles to recover from charges of corruption

Rajeev Khanna

It just took a 43-second audio clip to prompt the resignation of state BJP president Dr Rajeev Bindal. The party finds itself in an embarrassing position with its own cadres equating the alleged scam with selling of shrouds during a pandemic.

Ironically, in both BJP strongholds of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, BJP leaders and workers are in the dock for scams pertaining to procurement of ventilators, sanitisers and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits.

The ‘chronology’ of events in Himachal makes for interesting reading. It began in early May with the sanitiser scam in the secretariat where fake price tags were allegedly put on the bottles that were procured. The audio clip followed in which the Director of Health Services AK Gupta was allegedly heard seeking a bribe of Rs 5 lakh pertaining to procurement of PPE kits. There have been other allegations related to procurement following the outbreak of the pandemic.

The prompt resignation of the BJP chief Bindal on “high moral grounds” has also raised eyebrows because his name did not figure anywhere in the viral conversation. The vigilance probe has seen suspension of an official in the secretariat and arrest of Gupta, who is now out on bail.

Both Congress and the CPM have demanded a probe by a sitting High Court judge while conveying that the vigilance department investigations cannot be ‘independent’ in the given circumstances. They have also sought a white paper on the purchases made ever since COVID19 was declared a pandemic.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur holds the health portfolio and the irregularities allegedly took place right under his nose. Critics have been clamouring for an independent health minister but the berth remains without a full-time minister ever since former health minister Vipin Parmar was made the assembly speaker in place of Bindal, who resigned to take over as state president of the party. Now Bindal has resigned as state president and people are raising questions about the real reasons behind the musical chair.

The developments have also embarrassed BJP’s national president Jagat Prakash Nadda, who had anointed Bindal as the state president in January this year despite a string of allegations of corruption against him.

Large sections of party cadres were not happy at Bindal being ‘imposed’ as the state president, especially since it was the BJP’s central leadership that had sought Bindal’s resignation in 2012 when he was the health minister and faced corruption charges. He was then pacified with the position of a general secretary in the party.

Bindal along with others had also faced allegations on irregularities in the recruitment of Class IV employees in Solan Municipal Committee when he was its chief in 1998. The case was withdrawn by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau after the Jai Ram Thakur government assumed office in 2017.

Following his resignation after the audio clip went viral recently, Bindal has emerged as the biggest liability for the party. What was the need for him to resign if he had nothing to do with the PPE kits procurement?

“We would like to know where was the ‘Naitikta’ (high moral ground) when the Jai Ram Thakur government withdrew the case against him even after investigations had been completed. “BJP has indeed turned an aapda (disaster) into an avsar (opportunity) as exhorted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” quipped CPM leader Sanjay Chauhan.

Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Mukesh Agnihotri told this reporter, “The resignation of the state president of a national party itself conveys everything. The health department will sound the death knell of this government.”

“Why was the health minister Parmar removed in the first place and made the Speaker? Why were the concerns raised by BJP MLA Ravinder Singh Ravi pertaining to the health department in October last year swept under the carpet? Why was the Principal of the state-run Indira Gandhi Medical College removed in haste? And now when fingers are being pointed at the BJP’s organization, how can the government stand absolved? Making officials scapegoats does not serve any purpose as such scams cannot take place without political patronage,” he added.

Several BJP functionaries feel party heavyweights sitting in Delhi can no longer ignore the situation on the ground. For now, Bindal, the ambitious five times MLA, stands cornered. He was never said to be happy as the Speaker as he wanted a cabinet berth but was made the state unit chief instead. He may have resigned at the first opportunity, these sources say, in order to pave the way of his return to the cabinet.

Presently Jai Ram Thakur is enjoying the support of the group said to be loyalists of former chief minister Shanta Kumar. Another faction led by Shanta’s arch rival and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has reacted guardedly to the developments. Dhumal’ son Anurag Thakur is a union minister.

All eyes are now on Nadda, himself seen as the ‘yes man’ of his predecessor Amit Shah, appointing a new party president in the hill state who can iron out things for the BJP, once called a ‘party with a difference’ to now being called a ‘party with differences’.

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