A change of guard at the centre has compelled Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to sing a different tune.He has withdrawn a criminal defamation suit filed by him against BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over his allegations of graft. Indications are that the chief minister's move follows an attempt to "pacify" Jaitley, who holds important portfolios in the central government.Virbhadra Singh, who is at state helm for the sixth time, filed in a Shimla court Jan 16 three defamation cases against Jaitley, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his sons, BJP MP Anurag Thakur and Arun Dhumal.He said Jaitley and the Dhumals unleashed a malicious campaign against him and his family through the media.At a press conference in Delhi Dec 30 last year, Jaitley, then leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had demanded a probe and action by then prime minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress into allegations of payoff by a private company to the chief minister and his wife Pratibha Singh.He alleged that Virbhadra Singh accepted around Rs.1.5 crore and Rs.2.4 crore, through cheques in his and his wife's name, from Venture Energy and Technology Pvt. Ltd.Jaitley said the company was given two extensions in a hydel power project despite defaulting."I have taken a decision to withdraw one case, which was filed against Arun Jaitley, as a goodwill gesture as he holds important portfolios in the new government," Singh told reporters in Shimla this week.But he clarified that two other defamation cases - one against Dhumal and another against his both sons - would continue.Mincing no words to prove Jaitley's innocence, Singh said he believed that the allegations against him were the deliberate attempt of the Dhumals to mislead the public."I feel Arun Jaitley may not be fully aware of the facts. So I have decided to withdraw the suit against him," the chief minister said.
The decision to withdraw the defamation suit against Jaitley at this point in time when he is calling the shots in the union government is just aimed to "win" him over, said a senior state BJP leader."This will help him politically - one to get maximum indulgence in central-sponsored projects and second, fearing a backlash, he wants the centre not to adopt a vindictive approach in probing corruption allegations against him," said the leader, who didn't wish to be identified.The chief minister is facing charges of corruption levelled by senior counsel and AAP activist Prashant Bhushan's NGO Common Cause.Its plea, pending in the Delhi High Court, alleged that it has made representation to the CBI and the Chief Vigilance Commission and, instead of registering a first information report, the CBI has lodged a preliminary inquiry.The NGO, in a public interest litigation (PIL), sought a court-monitored investigation into the allegations.In its hearing April 2, the high court expressed displeasure at the status report submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on corruption, money laundering and possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income of Virbhadra Singh.It directed the CBI to speed up the probe.