Congress legislators attempt patch-up of warring seniors in Himachal

Shimla: Young Congress legislators in Himachal Pradesh are leaving nothing to chance in the run up to the assembly polls later this year and trying to end the tussle for supremacy among senior leaders for ousting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Five legislators, led by Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a confidant of union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, have started “conciliation” involving five-time chief minister and union Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Minister Virbhadra Singh, Congress Legislature Party leader Vidya Stokes and state party president Kaul Singh Thakur.

“It’s very important for the party’s senior leaders to shed the supremacy fight and sink differences at this point in time and bring the party back to power in the state,” said Sukhu.

Besides Sukhu, the other four legislators involved in the endeavour are Subhash Manglet, Sudhir Sharma, Rajesh Dharmani and Rakesh Kalia.

They have already met Stokes and Kaul Singh Thakur in this regard in Shimla.

“They met me and Kaul Singh. It’s a good initiative. After the Punjab (poll) debacle, the signal is very, very clear. If we don’t want to end factionalism and dissidence at an appropriate time, then we should be ready to sit in opposition for another five years,” said Stokes.

“Our first priority should be to get into power. Then the issue of leader (the chief minister) will come up,” she said, adding that the “party doesn’t believe in projecting someone (as chief minister) before the polls”.

Mincing no words, Stokes, 84, a long-time administrator of women’s hockey and former minister, said “the writing on the wall is clear”, hinting towards the party’s defeat in Punjab owing to overconfidence and infighting.

Legislator and a civil engineer by profession Dharmani said they met party general secretary Rahul Gandhi and union minister Anand Sharma separately in New Delhi in March and discussed the state’s political scenario with them.

“The exercise to bring the senior leaders together is to implement Rahul Gandhi’s agenda of coming back to power,” he added.

Dharmani said next week they were planning to meet Virbhadra Singh in New Delhi to seek his support.

The former chief minister, who is currently touring the state, has been critical of his own party leaders.

He has been saying that the state leaders had failed to take the Prem Kumar Dhumal government head-on. He even accused them of playing a “friendly match” with the ruling BJP.

“Raja Saab (as Virbhadra Singh is popularly known as) has already made it clear that he would remain in the forefront to ensure the party’s victory irrespective of the role he is assigned by the high command,” said Harsh Mahajan, former minister and confidant of Virbhadra Singh.

His loyalists are planning to hold a public rally in Shimla on his 77th birthday June 23.

Congress leaders said that the party’s defeat in Punjab may compel the party chief to give more responsibilities to Virbhadra Singh in the state affairs ahead of polls.

The Congress stalwart would have to prove his credentials as a charismatic leader as the party faced a humiliating defeat in the 2007 assembly elections with him at the helm of affairs, they said.

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