Old fight continues under new Himachal Congress boss

With elevation of Kuldeep Singh Rathore as new PCC chief, Congress has tried to keep balance between upper and lower Himachal areas with eyes set on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections reports Rakesh Rocky

This is a coincidence that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress’s newly appointed general secretary, has home in Himachal Pradesh’s capital Shimla. Just few days before her elevation as general secretary, Congress president Rahul Gandhi made another change. He appointed Kuldeep Singh Rathore new Pradesh Congress Committee chief in the hilly state.

With heavy snow on the hills, political corridors in Himachal Pradesh are gearing up for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The Congress has appointed new chief in the state and ruling BJP with its programmes is trying every best thing to win hearts of the people. Both the main players — Congress and the BJP — have to decide about their candidates yet. The ticket seekers, on the other hand, have already started efforts to win the mandate of their respective parties.

The Congress high command appointed new chief in the state in the second week of the New year. Though, this change saw a bad beginning when supporters of the outgoing state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh indulged in open fighting at the state Congress headquarters during oath-taking ceremony of the new PCC chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore. The more serious development was that this fight went to the extent that FIRs were filed by both the groups against each other. Obviously, new state Congress chief was not happy over the development and he sent a strong warning to stop infighting to both the groups.

With elevation of Rathore as new PCC chief, Congress has tried to keep balance between upper and lower Himachal areas. Previous PCC chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu was from the same lower Himachal area from where the leader of opposition and CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri belongs to. Sukhu was from Hamirpur district while Agnihotri belongs to Una district, both falls in lower Himachal area. Shimla had been a stronghold of the Congress since last many decades. However, in 2017 assembly elections, Congress lost seats to the BJP from the segments which were strongholds of the Congress.

Now with the appointment of Kuldeep Singh Rathor, Congress has tried to create a balance in both the areas. It is also seen as Congress’ effort to regain its ground in its stronghold of upper Himachal. Rathore belongs to Shimla district which is also the home turf of former chief minister and Congress strongman Virbhadra Singh. It was Virbhadra Singh, who was strongly opposing previous PCC chief Sukhwinder Sukhu. Now his supporters are projecting removal of Sukhu as their victory. However, truth is that Rathore is considered to be staunch supporter of former union minister and senior Congress leader Anand Sharma. However, it is also true that Vibhadra Singh have extended support to Rathore which was not the case with Sukhu. Virbhadra Singh criticised Sukhu right from the day he was appointed as PCC chief in 2012.

The change in the state Congress guard was also the result of the efforts of Pradesh Congress incharge Rajni Patil, who was fed-up of infighting between Sukhu and Virbhadra camps. She had openly admitted that there was infighting in the state Congress and it was harming its progress. Despite all her efforts when both the groups continued to clash openly, it is said that Patil recommended party high command to appoint new president.

This paved way for Rathore, considered to be a “silent worker” in the party who never tried or asked for any post. With an image of a clean leader, Rathore has already started touring the state.

Talking to the Tehelka, Rathore said, “My first and foremost effort is to keep unity in the orgnisation. Lok Sabha polls are very near and we have very less time. The Modi government at the centre have failed miserably to deliver and same is the case with the state BJP government. So our path is little bit easy. I am confident that Congress will win all the four seats in the state and we will also contribute in making our president Rahul Gandhi new prime minister of the country.”

However, the way Congress leaders in the state are indulged in the infigting, the road for Rathore didn’t seems to be so easy. Despite his repeated warnings, both Sukhu and Virbhadra camps have continued to abuse each other. ‘’When Sukhu was president, unfortunately he tried to do things on his will and didn’t consult senior leaders like Virbhadra Singh. Now when he is out, he is still indulging himself in abusing senior leaders which in my viewpoint is wrong and damaging the image of the party,’’ said Prem Kaushal, two time Congress candidate from Mewa (Bhoranj) constituency.

However, Sukhu defended his actions. ‘’There is no such personal clash. I respect him (Virbhadra Singh) as a senior leader. However I do not agree with his attitude towards other leaders. Unfortunately, he thinks that Congress in the state starts with him and ends at him. As PCC chief, I always tried to unite the party and many leaders in the party agree with this,’’ added Sukhu.

He said that such things happen in all democratic parties and every body has right to express his views. “This should not be defined as infighting. We are united and will win all the seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections,’’ he added.

It is said that former chief minister Virbhadra Singh has extended his support to the new PCC chief Kuldeep Rathore. Immediately after his elevation as PCC chief, Rathore went to Virbhadra’s residence and got his blessings. ‘’Virbhadra ji support all Congressmen. He has 60 years of experience in the public life and has made number of sacrifices for the party. False cases have been slapped on him and has been repeatedly been politically tortured by th opponents but he never surrendered. He is a great Congressman,’’ said legislator Vikramaditya Singh, who is also son of the former chief minister.

There are words doing the rounds that Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu may be made Congress nominee from Hamirpur seat in the coming Lok Sabha elections. He is a Rajput leader who have majority votes in the Hamirpur seat. In such situation, he may have to face Anurag Thakur, a three time BJP MP and another young Rajput leader.

According to the insiders, party is considering names of Dhani Ram Shandil from Shimla, Sukhwinder Sukhu/Mukesh Agnihotri from Hamirpur, Virbhadra Singh/Kaul Singh from Mandi and Chander Kumar/Asha Kumari/Sudhir Kumar from Kangra. However, no final decision has been taken so far in this regard. State Congress in-charge Rajni Patil has already held meetings of workers of all four parliamentary constituencies and decision in this regards may be taken soon. Leader of opposition and senior leader Mukesh Agnihotri is confident of party winning all four seats. ‘’We are raising issue of failures of BJP government in the state. At the centre also Modi government is a big failure. People are annoyed and they have set their minds to vote for the Congress,’’ he added.