June 7, 2020
Now that the dust has settled over the crisis that erupted in the state of Himachal Pradesh in reference to the ‘expression to accept bribe’; it is time to understand the ground nuances and unearth some of the hidden facts. But before that here is a quick recapitulation of the incident and the events that followed.
An audio message became viral in the state, with loud connotations of bribe between the director health services of the state and Prithvi Singh. The latter made an offer of a bribe of Rs 5 lakh to the director. The vigilance and anti-corruption bureau swung into action and arrested the director but did not reach out to Prithvi Singh and he was not arrested. Later the director also got bail.
The opposition parties including the Congress and CPI(M) led a scathing attack on the government that in the Covid-19 crisis bribes are being accepted by the government and strict action must be taken. Shanta Kumar, a former chief minister of the state too castigated the government and spoke of assertive action. Prithvi Singh is linked to former minister and MLA from Nahan, Rajeev Bindal who was the state president of the BJP. It was alleged that the purchase of 7,000 and 6,000 PPE kits in two tranches were bought from Apex Diagnostics , Solan which is run by the daughter and son-in-law of Rajeev Bindal. Prithvi Singh was the marketing manager of the Apex Company. On investigation by a section of the media it was found out that the firm that supplied 6,000 kits: Bansal Communications, Kurukshetra does not exist at all. Finally Rajeev Bindal had to resign from the post of state president of BJP.
Is it that linear? No, absolutely not. There is a bigger scandal that struck the state of Gujarat in the purchase of 900 ventilators. It was alleged that those are not ventilators in the category and actually are junk machines, which led to the death of over 300 people in Ahmedabad civil hospital. This was a more severe crime, but why nobody from the BJP had to resign in Gujarat, whereas just with an offer to bribe the state president had to lose his post?
The political drama of the resignation has once again brought the space of strong grouping within BJP to the fore. The BJP may pronounce itself to be a disciplined cadre party, but in Himachal right since the Jan Sangh days the party has been mired with factional groupings. In the past it was between Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal, then between Dhumal and J P Nadda and then with the defeat of P K Dhumal in the assembly elections there is a new dark horse who has emerged in the race.
The new face is the chief minister of the state, Jai Ram Thakur
From reliable sources within the BJP it is learnt that Rajeev Bindal was J P Nadda’s man to check the chief minister from developing a base in the state. Jai Ram has retaliated, and retaliated with a strong hacking. Rajeev Bindal was forced to resign that Nadda would have never accepted; Jai Ram knew it well. Close associates of Jai Ram instead of approaching the party president approached the prime minister’s office and kept on pushing against Rajeev Bindal. It is believed that the PMO and not the party president’s office intervened and set the ball rolling for the removal/resignation of Bindal.
Jai Ram has asserted his authority though in a very crafty manner. Knowing well that some of his colleagues in the cabinet can be trouble shooters, the picking up of Jagdish Sharma as his principal private secretary is another message to his rivals within the BJP. Sharma, an upright and fairly honest officer of the administrative services is the one who was instrumental in getting the horticulture project for the state with active support from the World Bank.
One of the senior ministers in Jai Ram cabinet who has the potential to form a rival faction was dealt sternly by Jagdish Sharma during the previous regime. The chief minister similarly picked up his henchman for the chief post in the police department.
The misnomer that the chief minister is new and shall be working with the centre’s khadau(stew) is proving to be untrue. The chief minister has started to assert and has got rid of his first target. Who will fill the space for a potential rival within the BJP is yet to be seen?
Writer is the former deputy Mayor of Shimla. Views expressed are personal.