Will Virbhadra Singh’s antics cost the Congress party dearly in HP polls?
Once again, the old fox and veteran Congress Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh has managed to have his way about party ticket distribution, campaign for the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and getting his son, Vikramditya Singh, a party ticket defying the Congress high command diktat of one family one ticket rule.
Bowing to the continued unreasonable demands from Mr. Singh, over a period of last few years, the Congress high command has shown once again signs of a weakened leadership and a party whose vice president, Rahul Gandhi does not practise what he preaches. The continued humiliation of the State Congress president, Thakur Sukhwinder Singh at the hands of Mr. Singh and then twisting the party to remove him as the chairman of the campaign committee has certainly not gone down well with the party cadres. No doubt, Mr. Singh is one of the most popular leaders in the state and commands a certain amount of loyalty in the Legislative Party, but then the Congress high command has allowed him to get away with anything and everything.
Last month, Mr Singh, demanding the ouster of Mr. Sukhwinder Singh as the state party president, had threatened to the leadership that he will not contest elections if his demand was not met. He even got many party MLAs to write to the party leadership in this regard bringing out factionalism in the open. The very fact that party squabbles were played out in the open badly eroded the credibility of the government and the party giving an edge to BJP which, also looks a divided house, but has been bound by the central leadership which is assertive and strong.
In fact, the Congress party had lost the high moral ground when it termed as politically motivated the corruption cases against the Chief Minister and his family members. The very fact that the court has framed charges against Mr. Singh and family members should have been grounds enough to oust Mr. Singh and install a clean image Chief Minister in his place. However, the congress leadership lost this opportunity as some senior leaders within the party batted for the Chief Minister and his threat to split the party if he was removed made the party high command nervous. “The party should have acted and ousted Mr. Singh even if it meant sacrificing the government which had only six-odd months to go. This would have certainly given the party the high moral ground to take on the BJP and won sympathy from the locals of the state. But now we are faced with a precarious situation where some party men are working to ensure the loss of some leaders,’’ a senior Himachal leader remarked.
Even during the last Assembly polls in 2012, Mr. Singh had threatened to split the party if he was not declared the party Chief Minister face for the assembly polls. In fact, he had bulldozed the party to declare him not only the Chief Minister face but also the head of the party’s campaign. The party had won a moderate mandate with some of Mr. Virbhadra Singh’s loyalists biting the dust and the government was formed with the help of associate members and rebels.
There is little doubt that Mr. Singh has not allowed any party leader to emerge on the political scene and today the Congress leadership is struggling with the choice of replacing an ageing Mr. Singh who seems to now fighting a battle for not only his survival but also for the survival of his legacy or family rule and ensure that not only he wins at the hustings but also his son, who is contesting from the Shimla (Rural) constituency, make his debut in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly and formally launches himself into the political scene of the state.
The other senior party leader, Anand Sharma has been a reluctant customer as far as state politics is concerned. He has managed to get some of his supporter’s party tickets but by and large has not been able to project or position himself as the popular or dominating leader of the state. No doubt the party is fighting a very tough battle to retain the state but one can never know with the old horse that Mr. Virbhadra Singh is, he could have an ace up his sleeve.
(Views are personal)