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Face of India's Congress party falls from grace

Publication Date : 26-04-2012


Abhishek Manu Singhvi, 53, was once the most visible face of the ruling Congress party.

He would hold media briefings for his party at 4pm and then proceed to television studios to debate the topic of the day, energetically defending his party against critics. In between, he practised law.

Now the party's key troubleshooter has become trouble for the party.

On Monday, Singhvi resigned as party spokesman, a post he held for 12 years, as well as from a powerful parliamentary law panel. He said he was forced to step down to shield his party from controversy over a 'distorted' CD allegedly showing a video of him in a compromising situation with a woman, which was distributed on social networking sites.

It is a sudden fall for a politician who has built his reputation in the past decade as one of the most articulate faces of the Congress party and a leading legal voice.

"Since I am a disciplined party soldier, I did not think it fit to subject the party to any inconvenience on this account," he said in his resignation letter. "All allegations are patently baseless and false."

Singhvi, who has two sons with wife Anita, a classical singer, said the video disclosed "only something private and consensual, giving a cause of action only to aggrieved family members (who have stood completely by me)".

The video was circulated by a former driver with a grudge. Though Singhvi got an injunction from the Delhi High Court against publishing, broadcasting and distributing the video, it went viral on social networking sites.

The driver admitted in court that the 'camera was used illegally' and the images 'morphed to show Singhvi in a bad light', but the damage was seen to be done.

Singhvi's fall from grace is a fresh blow to the ruling Congress party, which is fast running out of capable hands to guide it through a crisis in governance and popularity as it heads into general elections in 2014. The ruling party has faced allegations of corruption, a slowing economy and a poor showing in recent city and assembly elections.

But it is Singhvi's fall from grace that has hit the party the hardest.

"The Congress is not enjoying a good run. So it has increased pressure on the leadership to come clean. If this incident had taken place in mid-2004, perhaps he would have been luckier. But the party has to be seen to be doing something," said Rasheed Kidwai, a Delhi-based journalist and author of two books on the Congress party.

Coming from a family of lawyers, Singvi - whose father L. M. Singhvi was a top lawyer and a Bharatiya Janata Party politician who became India's longest-serving high commissioner to Britain - has had a sterling career in law and politics. He was the youngest person ever to be appointed senior advocate in the Delhi High Court, at the age of 34, and was made an Additional Solicitor-General - a post just below Solicitor-General - at the age of 37.

In the late 1990s, he joined the Congress party and was made spokesman in 2001. Known to be close to party president Sonia Gandhi, Singhvi through the years has juggled his career as a lawyer, parliamentarian and a media spokesman.

He was often seen as the well-spoken, educated voice of a party that is known for its pro-poor politics.

He was last month chosen by the party to continue representing it in the House of Elders, or the Upper House of Parliament.

But most analysts think it will be difficult for the politician to resurrect his career.

"He will have to pay a price," said Kidwai. "I don't see him emerging before 2014."


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