BJP bridges divide, Congress chasm widens in Himachal

Shimla: The ruling BJP in Himachal Pradesh seems to have learnt its lessons from the past. With assembly elections a few months away, the party stands united while the opposition Congress is falling apart.

Political observers say arch-rivals within the Bharatiya Janata Party – Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and party vice president Shanta Kumar – have agreed to end their differences and jointly campaign for the return of the party for a second term.

The Congress is a divided house. Its senior leader and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh had Tuesday resigned from the party’s campaign and manifesto committees.

He was made chairman of the campaign committee this month, after his resigned from the union cabinet. The other committee members included union minister Anand Sharma, leader of opposition Vidya Stokes and state Congress chief Kaul Singh.

“‘Raja Saab’ (as Virbhadra Singh is popularly known) was unhappy over the expansion of the poll committee. He was never consulted (over the expansion). Certain leaders, who have been harming the party’s interests, have been made members,” a close aide of Singh said.

The sulking leader also stayed away from the party’s manifesto committee meeting in New Delhi Monday chaired by Anand Sharma.

But Birender Singh, in-charge of the party’s state affairs, who was here for a meeting Friday, denied that Virbhadra Singh had resigned from the committees.

“Virbhadra has not resigned. He has conveyed that he is unable to attend today’s meeting due to an eye surgery,” he told reporters.

“Little bit of grievances are always there. That’s part of politics,” he said.

Party sources, however, say Singh, who was charged by a Shimla court in a corruption case last month, is just trying to bargain ahead of the elections.

“He wants a role in both ticket allocation (to the candidates) and leading the campaign. He was unhappy over the induction of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as head of the screening committee and he was not even included in it as a member,” a senior party leader said.

But Singh’s critics said his exclusion from the screening committee signalled an end to his political career.

“It’s a clear signal that Raja Saab has been marginalised as he has no say in allocation of tickets,” said a party leader, who did not want to be named.

Kaul Singh, who is also in the race for the chief minister’s post, refused to accept that the party was faction-ridden.

“Small, little things keep happening in every party. The Congress will return to power with absolute majority as the people are fed up with the Dhumal-led government,” he said.

Congress sources, however, said the party had not learnt any lesson from its defeat in the Punjab assembly elections.

Compared to the Congress, the BJP has managed to put its house in order well ahead of the polls.

Dhumal showed political shrewdness in getting his bete noire Shanta Kumar to fall in line by arranging a private company to fund Kumar’s dream project of setting up a super-specialty hospital in his hometown, Palampur, in Kangra.

The 200-bed hospital of Vivekananda Medical and Research Trust was inaugurated July 23.

Former chief minister Shanta Kumar, who is the trust’s chairman, thanked Dhumal at the inauguration ceremony.

Sources said the delay in the project had created differences between Kumar and Dhumal.

Though elections to the 68-member Himachal assembly are due in December, they are likely to be held in October.


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