NEW DELHI: The Congress on Monday choose to ignore criticism triggered by the appointment of Himachal Pradesh leader Asha Kumari, who was convicted in a land-grab case, as the All India Congress Committee secretary in charge of poll-bound Punjab. Congress president Sonia Gandhi met Kumari, indicating the party was ready to weather the storm.
Kumari was convicted in a land-grab case in which she had allegedly transferred forest land to her husband. She was sentenced to a year in jail but is currently out on bail.
The Congress high command had to beat a hasty retreat on Kamal Nath’s appointment as Punjab in-charge after the SAD-BJP combine and the AAP successfully raked up the sensitive 1984 riots issue and Nath’s alleged role in the anti-Sikh massacres. Unlike Nath, who at 70 did not want to jeopardise the remaining days of his political career with a new party appointment, Kumari was not ready to buckle under pressure, despite other parties flagging up the corruption charges against her.
After meeting Sonia Gandhi, Kumari deflected the charges and rejected calls for her resignation. “I have been given a full mandate by the Congress president and the vice-president to work for the party in Punjab,” she said.
Asked if the controversy would have an adverse impact on the Congress in Punjab, she shot back, “None at all”.
However, it should be noted that the Congress leadership, facing various charges, including those about the controversial land deal involving Sonia’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, is clearly going by Kumari’s version and supporting her.
The party released documents to “show” that she was no longer in the dock in the land-grab case. Kumari said, “It has become fashionable to use the word ‘land grab’. How can I grab the land which belongs to my father-in-law?” She said the case was related to a property owned by her father-in-law and the tenants had forged some papers to claim ownership, which was challenged in court.
Kumari is a four-time legislator from Dalhousie, with fairly good knowledge of politics in adjoining Punjab, and is Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s niece.