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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Congress high command banks on family legacy in Himachal but has it yet again promoted a clash of personalities

Six months ahead of the assembly polls the Congress  high command  in an attempt to encash on the popularity of late  Virbhadra Singh has appointed  his widow and present MP from Mandi Smt Pratibha Singh as the State Congress president  with a caveat that no Congress  state president will be a contender for the CM’s chair.

However  just to ensure that too much power is not wielded by  the late CM’S  family Rahul Gandhi’s  blue eyed boy Sukhwinder Singh sukhu – a former state president  and current MLA from Nadaun – has been made the chairman of the campaign  committee apart from being made  a member of the screening committee for candidates. 

Sukhu as he is popularly called and the late Virbhadra  Singh were at loggerheads  when the former was the State president and the 6 time former  CM had no qualms about showing  his displeasure with Sukhu’s appointment as the State chief.

The 4 working presidents appointed by the AICC Harsh Mahajan, Pawan Kajal, Rajinder Rana and Vinay Kumar are loyalists of the late CM and give an insight into the party’s thinking of reposing its confidence  on the followers of Virbhadra Singh to carry the mantle of the party.

Asha Kumari and Thakur Singh  Bharmouri who have represented  Dalhousie and Bharmour in Chamba district are notable absentees from any key poll assignments  while their party rival Harsh Mahajan  an ex- minister from Chamba  has found favour with the party high command and has been appointed as the working President.

After the demise of Virbhadra Singh congress has been riddled by many factions with each eyeing the CM’s chair. Thus you had leaders from lower Himachal vying with each other in a game of one upmanship while the family of the late CM tried to stamp it’s authority on the State Congress as Kuldeep Rathore the outgoing President tried his level best to bring the warring factions together.

However the recent congress victories in bypolls particularly the crucial Mandi Lok sabha seat where Pratibha Singh riding on the massive popularity of her late husband won the seat by over three lakh votes has enthused party cadres.This victory along with the victory in the assembly  bypolls of Arki, Jubbal Kotkhai and Fatehpur has energized the party in Himachal. 

The Mandi Lok sabha encompasses 17 assembly  segments out of 68 in Himachal and stretches across 5 districts.This landslide  victory  by Pratibha  Singh was instrumental  in convincing the high command  that the upcoming assembly  elections  should be fought under her leadership so that the popularity of the former CM can be fully encashed into votes. 

The current appointments of Pratibha  Singh  and Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu by the Congress high command could split the state Congress in 2 camps and it would be interesting  to see which camp gains the upper hand. With Pratibha Singh out of the race for the CM’s chair ( for the moment) as per the latest diktat of the Congress high command that no state president will be eligible for the CM ‘s post, the field is open for the many aspirants for the coveted post with  Mukesh Agnihotri and SukhwinderSingh Sukhu, leading the pack.

The Congress committed Harakiri  in Punjab by first ousting Amarinder and then pitting Channi against Sidhu. In Himachal, they have again relegated powers to two individuals  who have a history  of disliking each other as the former CM Virbhadra Singh was really critical of Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu’s tenure as President  of the party. Now with the late CM’s wife at the helm things are no different  though partymen would have us believe that everything  is hunky dory in the Congress. 

However history is on the side of the Congress as no party has won back  to back elections in the state since the last three decades and more. Thus the Jai Ram government will have to rewrite history to retain power in the tiny hill state. 

As  the Congress and the BJP slug it out  for the upcoming  elections in Himachal both the parties face the lurking danger of AAP which is fresh from its  landslide  performance in neighbouring Punjab and will spare no effort to upset the applecart of the two main players in the State. 

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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