Shimla: A defiant octogenarian Virbhadra Singh has dug in to hold onto the hill fort Himachal even as Congress faces a countrywide identity crisis with the party not having come up with enough numbers to even qualify as an opposition party in the polls.
Political pundits had written off the 6 time chief minister as election results showed up that BJP was winning all four seats in the state and as a bonus had even won an the Sujanpur assembly bye-election.
Like Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi offering to resign for the party’s debacle polls, expectations of Virbhadra following suit were belied when the chief minister, at a hurriedly convened media conference yesterday said, “he (Gogoi) may have his compulsions. I have none. Why should I resign when our government has been elected for a five year term?”
His defiant reaction implied that it was not the state party unit that lost the seats but it was the central party unit on test in the poll and they have got it badly, so why should I take blame and resign.
Disgruntled members in the state congress legislature party have been left frustrated and are up against a wall for the rout the party had in the state and hopes were raised that with Pratibha Singh, wife of the chief minister, also having lost, the chief minister would resign or the party high command would ask for a leadership change.
“Where does Pratibha Singh’s losing an election count when many cabinet minister in the Manmohan Singh government have lost out in this Modi wave,” said a Virbhadra loyalist legislator, without wanting to be identified.
Even before the results were declared, Rajesh Dharmani, a two time MLA, had resigned from the position chief parliamentary secretary to express his resentment with the state party leadership. Senior congress leader Asha Kumari had early in the term even declined to join the Virbhadra cabinet.
The party’s worst ever performance has state congress president Sukhvinder Sukku dejected, but other than owning up responsibility there is not much for him to do as the Congress high command has crumbled and one does not know whom to turn to for seeking change or for accountability for the poor performance.
A dissidence camp legislator on conditions of anonymity said, “Whom do we turn to when dissidence is weak, there is no consensus over an alternate leader to challenge Virbhadra Singh’s leadership in the party and Congress high command is not in a position to intervene and effect change.”
Dismissing opposition leader Prem Kumar Dhumal demand for the chief minister resignation, Virbhadra retorted at the media conference, “I don’t intend to oblige Mr Dhumal. Please let him know if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
Detractors are now waiting for CBI to complete its investigation in a case about dramatic rise in agriculture income case, reflected in revised income tax returns filed during a period when Virbhadra was a minister in the outgoing Manmohan Singh cabinet. The case is pending before Delhi High Court, where AAP party leader Prashant Bhushan is pursuing the matter.
The detractors are banking upon Modi government in speeding up the investigation process and should a charge sheet in the case be filed, it would force the chief minister to resign.
However supporters of the veteran chief minister say that different yardsticks would not apply for the chief minister and the opposition leader.
After all the state vigilance department has presented a charge sheet in court against both Dhumal and his son and the third time MP from Hamirpur – Anurag Thakur in cases related to establishing the scenic cricket stadium at Dharamshala.
Charges of violations in land laws and demolishing and overtaking of government properties in constructing the stadium have been made out.
Elected in December 2012, the Co9ngress government has 36 legislators in a house of 68 in the assembly, where opposition BJP now has 27. With more than 3 years still to go for the current government, Virbhadra for now has decided to stay put.