Scam season has come and a fumbling Congress has left itself open to attack to ambitious civil society activists, and may be unable to repair the damage before upcoming state and general elections. In the case of Salman Khurshid, it is alleged that the trust run by him and his wife did not hold any camps where items were distributed to the physically challenged. The CAG, in fact, has asked the Social Justice Ministry for a refund of Rs 71.50 lakh, calculated with interest, for grants given to the trust.
Louise Khurshid, project director of the trust, has responded by seeking to distinguish between a “CAG report’’ and a CAG inspection report. “I have it on authority from the CAG’s office,” she said in a statement, “that the documents news channels are flashing is NOT a CAG report” of the sort that gets placed in Parliament. It’s “merely an excerpt from an initial internal inspection report’’ that seeks clarifications from the ministry of social justice and empowerment,’’ she added.
Louise says in the clarification that there has been no misappropriation of funds. “All appropriate documentation, including proof of camps, all beneficiary lists and utilisation certificates, duly audited, have been submitted.’’
Another minister important for the Congress electoral calculus is Subodh Kant Sahay who earned his share of infamy in Coalgate. He is a weighty player in Jharkhand, having navigated its politics from his socialist days, right down to his present avatar as the Congress MP from Ranchi and Union tourism minister.
Right now, as Himachal Pradesh going to vote on November 4, Virbhadra Singh is the party’s face for chief minister. The ISPAT scandal will be felt in the state, as a sequel to the avalanche of scams. The initials ‘VBS’ have turned up in an expense account roster maintained by steel firm Ispat Industries and seized in an I-T search which states `2.27 crore was paid to ‘VBS’ between October 2009 and August 2010. Virbhadra denies being the recipient, but the period of payment coincides with his stint as Union Steel Minister (May 200909-Jan 2011). He claims it is BJP leader Arun Jaitley and Anurag Thakur’s “smear campaign” against him.
The power calculus may not favour Virbhadra at this juncture. The high command isn’t well disposed towards him either. It replaced a Virbhadra loyalist as the Dharamsala candidate with a greenhorn despite his stiff opposition.
A few months ago, an old corruption case dating from 1989, when Virbhadra was CM, had popped up recently in taped conversations. When the heat on him peaked this summer, Virbhadra called it a political witch-hunt by the BJP, resigned from the Union Cabinet in June and threatened to form a new party to fight the assembly polls. The high command succumbed. For, a possible win in Himachal is the only thing that can partly compensate for the expected rout in Gujarat later this year, and it couldn’t afford to jeopardize that as well. So in late August, it reluctantly named Virbhadra as PCC chief, in effect accepting him as the chief ministerial candidate.
In a state that has traditionally seen a one-to-one battle between the BJP and Congress, the slightest disturbance can put either one on the losing side. BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s pun on the current situation linking it to the FDI-in-retail, is being used by his party as a comment against the UPA: “We’ve a cash-carry government in the Centre!’’
The Congress, however, is not reacting with the same ferocity as it did on Vadragate. Says a top party source, “We will stay the course, implement FDI in retail with the cash-and-carry segment. Our answer is, (do) no reply to the spit-and-scoot brigade!’’ The winter session of parliament, when it happens, will show whether the strategy can be carried to its logical conclusion, on either side.