Exposure is a risk that comes with secrecy. As suspicions about his possible involvement with a steel major refuse to die down, former Union Minister of Steel and Himachal Pradesh Congress leader Virbhadra Singh can have no choice but face up to a full-fledged inquiry into his financial dealings over the past few years. Protests and denials will no longer do. While he may choose to continue to ridicule opposition politicians and rebuke journalists, Mr. Singh will also have to answer some tough queries relating to the phenomenal increase of Rs.6.57 crore in his agricultural income declared through a revised filing of Income Tax returns for three years. Even as the Income Tax authorities scrutinise his claimed agricultural income, documents already in the public realm necessitate a thorough investigation into the possibility of corrupt quid pro quo deals between him and the steel company. The Opposition alleges that the revised filing of returns for three assessment years beginning 2009-10, on March 2, 2012, could be linked not to earnings from Mr. Singh’s apple orchard but to cash payments made by the Ispat group to one ‘VBS,’ according to documents seized by the tax authorities.
Given the sums involved, Mr. Singh surely has a lot of explaining to do. However, over the last few days, he has shown no willingness to come forward and clear his name. Instead of responding to the specific charges against him, Mr. Singh chose to behave as though all this was no more than an elaborate political ploy by the Opposition just before the Himachal Pradesh Assembly election. That leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party who highlighted the allegations are politically motivated is no doubt true, but how has this got anything to do with his own proclaimed innocence? The issue is not the political partisanship of his accusers, but the gaps in his own accounting. Secretive deals kept away from the columns of an accounting ledger have a way of cropping up at even more inconvenient places. If the allegations are false, as Mr. Singh insists they are, then the truth is his best defence. The Congress leader should show the courage to place all the relevant facts before the people and even ask for a thorough investigation into the management of his finances. At the same time, this is not a question of one former minister battling a corruption charge. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dropped Mr. Virbhadra Singh from his cabinet soon after the diary entries were discovered. Was his ouster a mere coincidence? Even if it was, the Prime Minister still needs to get the facts that have come to light since then properly investigated. Sadly, it has become something of a pattern with the government that graft charges are probed only after the courts or auditors or the media start pointing fingers, not before.