Shimla, Oct 7: A day ahead of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s first public meeting in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, undercurrents of simmering tension in the state party unit could still be sensed.
As incumbent chief minister Virbhadra Singh marked out his territory and tagged the event a celebration of the government’s achievements in five years, the state party unit led by Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who has been at loggerheads with Virbhadra, has taken it upon himself to draw crowds for Rahul’s rally in Mandi on Saturday.
Virbhadra, who had refused to share the dais with Sukhvinder, though had been pacified following an audience with the party vice president and AICC state in-charge Sushil Kumar Shinde last week and had called truce, party sources in the state unit insist the rift is far from settled. Sukhu has Rahul’s blessings and despite Virbhadra’s strong disapproval of him, his removal was summarily dismissed by the Gandhi family scion, who has been effecting a new regime across the party organisation in the run-up to his taking over the top job.
As PM Narendra Modi and the BJP are stepping up attack on Virbhadra, focusing on the corruption charges against him, sources said Rahul is not very keen on going ahead with Virbhadra as the party’s chief ministerial face yet again. However a final call is yet to be taken by the party high command. “The anti-incumbency too works against him. Though he has emerged as a one-man-army in Himachal and has considerable clout, it is also time for change. The present CM is 83-years-old. It is time for new talent to come up,” said a senior party leader.
Members from Virbhadra’s faction, however, brazen out the corruption allegations and maintain that the CM’s ‘good governance’ will pay off for the party. “The charges not proven yet, whatever be the allegations, governance has never suffered. People are very happy,” said a local leader.
Ridden with infighting and with no clear-cut plan for the upcoming polls, the Congress party walks on slippery ground in the state. While Modi has held big three rallies in the poll-bound state, Rahul will address the electorate on Saturday for the first time this year. Torn between Virbhadra’s clout and Sukhu, who marks a shift in the politics of the state, Rahul postponed his tours of the state.
“Personal differences between leaders are always there but we have resolved our issues. Tomorrow’s event is very important. It is a government event on the achievements of its five years and we are calling it ‘Vikas Se Vikay Ki Oar’. I just finished three meetings today and the preparations are absolutely on track. The party organisation is backing the event and we will be mobilising masses. In hill states, it is difficult to draw big crowds. Particularly in Himachal, where the total population is 60 lakh with 11 lakh families, to quote a number will be inaccurate but ours will be as good as Modi’s rally,” Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee president, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu told Mail Today.
Asked if Virbhadra, despite the corruption allegations, will be the party’s face in the upcoming polls, Sukhu said, “That is for the party high command to decide. As for the corruption charges, unless they are proved in a court of law he cannot be held guilty. The matter is sub judice. There might be antiincumbency but our government’s work is being lauded.”
Source India Today