Virbhadra’s age makes him sharper (Himachal Pradesh Newsletter)

Shimla, April 12 (IANS) Time cannot wither, nor can age affect his political acumen. This and much more became clear to Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s critics during the just-concluded budget session of the state assembly.

Political observers say he had made it clear that age – the chief minister is 78 – has only made him sharper. In a smart move, Virbhadra Singh took the wind out of the opposition BJP’s walkout on amendments to the state’s ccoperative societies act by withdrawing four bills proposing the biggest hike in the salaries and allowances of legislators and ministers and the pensions of former legislators.

Predicating a backlash by the opposition for passing the bills behind its back, the chief minister decided at the last moment not to go ahead with the bills.

The move has left the BJP members stumped as they didn’t know how to react.

“With his master stroke he has silenced the rivals, who have been saying Virbhadra Singh has lost his edge,” a senior Congress leader said.

According to him, the chief minister has indirectly conveyed to the BJP members that he would not deliver any benefits to them if they didn’t go with him.

The BJP, on the last day of the budget session, had walked out of the assembly just before the salaries’ bills were to be taken up for discussion.

Instead of taking advantage of the opposition’s absence, Virbhadra Singh tried to silence the opposition by saying the government would not pass legislation that would reflect that “we are increasing our own salaries”.

He said the bills had been prepared through the consensus of all members of the house, including the opposition.

“Tomorrow the opposition members will say that they were not party to the hike. So I propose to take back the bills,” Virbhadra Singh said in the assembly.

Political observers said the shrewdness of the septuagenarian, who completed 30 years in the state assembly Monday, was at its best despite his apparent lack of interest in the assembly proceedings.Popularly known as ‘Raja Saab,’ as he was born into the erstwhile royal family of Bushahr, he took oath as chief minister for his record sixth stint Dec 25, 2012.

The chief minister’s insightfulness was displayed on a number of occasions during the budget session, which had 18 sittings.

Equating the state’s police during the previous BJP regime with the Nazi regime’s dreaded Gestapo, the chief minister virtually turned the tables on the BJP on the issue of mass unauthorised surveillance of telephones of politicians and bureaucrats.

“The police are expected to be impartial in their dealings. However, during the tenure of the previous government, the police were virtually converted into the Gestapo,” Virbhadra Singh said during his budget speech March 14.

On the allegations of BJP member Ravinder Ravi April 3 that the government was indulging in snooping, Virbhadra Singh dismissed the allegations in just three lines.

“There is no snooping going on anywhere. The days of snooping and phone tapping are over. They are performing only security duties,” he said.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])

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