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Marred & raked by infighting: Is the Congress really keen on fighting Himachal polls?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 22 August 2017, 18:41 IST
(Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

With knives out in the open and no concrete plan being executed on the ground, is the Congress party in Himachal Pradesh keen to fight the forthcoming state Assembly polls?

This is the golden question foxing the political observers in this tiny hill state where it is being said that the phenomenon of a hiatus seems to be taking over with an alarming speed, that too when only three months are left for the polls.

The series of developments in the last few days within the Congress camp have resulted in the wrong signals going out to the public.

Till recently, it was the fight between the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and the state Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu that was making headlines at regular intervals. Next came the rebellious tones by Congress leader Vijay Singh Mankotia. To make matters worse, it is now the utterances of transport minister GS Bali that is making the top leadership see red.

Bali has been known for his love hate equation with Virbhadra. It did not come as a surprise when while addressing a rally in the presence of the new state in-charge of the party, Sushil Kumar Shinde and the secretary appointed by the All India Congress Committee (AICC), Ranjana, he carried out an attack veiled in idioms.

He said, “Raja se rank bante hain aur rank se raja bhi ban jaate hain (People at times become kings from paupers and vice versa)”. He followed this up by saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

Saying that he would perform whatever duty is assigned to him by the party, Bali underlined that only those armies win battles whose generals take everyone into confidence. At this rally, Sukhu had reportedly went on to describe Bali as the backbone of the party.

In the past, both of Virbhadra and Sukhu's supporters have been approaching the party high command against each other through the letters of support from their loyalists. Virbhadra has been calling for Sukhu's removal, while the latter too has been hitting back in subtle tones.

But one incident that presented the party in a very bad light. Anti-Sukhu slogans were raised by Virbhadra loyalists when Shinde came to the Congress Bhawan in Shimla for the very first time after being appointed as the party in-charge earlier this month.

It is being said that the rival factions of the Congress have been resorting to holding rallies as a show of strength to run down each other before the party high command instead of taking on the rival BJP.

But things took the turn for the worst during Shinde's recent five-day to the state that started from 16 August.

Trouble in the ranks

On 16 August while speaking at the Congress party workers' conference in Dharamshala, Virbhadra underlined that back stabbing will not be tolerated at all and the persons involved in such activities will not be spared.

In Shinde's presence, Virbhadra said that everybody in the state knows the persons who have been working against the interests of the Congress party and the state government.

Lambasting the leaders and workers of the party engaged in anti-party activities, Virbhadra said that he need not name these people as their identity is already publicly known. “Such persons are working as agents of BJP,” he alleged.

On 18 August, Virbhadra unleashed his anger in a veiled attack on the former union minister as he condemned the culture of 'Aya Ram Gaya Ram (Politics of opportunism)'. Claiming that he is a Congress man and will remain so, he said that he is unlike others who shun party for self-gains.

“I am not Aya Ram-Gaya Ram,” Virbhadra said.

Sukh Ram had left the Congress to help BJP form the government in 1998. However, Sukh Ram's Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) had later merged with the Congress.

Watch those words!

It needs to be pointed out that Virbhadra has himself put the party in an embarrassing position by shooting off his mouth at crucial junctures.

One of these instances was his 'irresponsible' utterances over the Kotkhai rape and murder of a schoolgirl that saw an unprecedented outburst against his government by the people. The manner in which the state administration responded to the crisis put the Congress on the back foot.

Next came his alleged 'derogatory' remarks against the people from the Gaddi community.

Observers say that this not only put his 'blue eyed' MLA and urban development minister Sudhir Sharma in a very tight spot, since he represents the Gaddi-influenced seat of Dharamshala but also gave a much-needed booster to the senior BJP leader Kishan Kapoor who is Sharma's rival. Kapoor also belongs to the Gaddi community.

The protests by the community were made worse by a lathi-charge on agitators. But, Virbhadra maintained his position and said that he respected the Gaddi community and that he had said nothing against them. Accusing the opposition of politicising the issue, Virbhadra said that his words had been twisted.

The state government also played up how it had increased the membership of Gaddi Kalyan Board from 33 to 74 besides other welfare schemes for the community. Virbhadra met a delegation of Gaddis on 16 August where he received a memorandum of their demands. He promised to address their concerns.

Fight, divide, lose

“They are too busy squabbling among themselves. One cannot see any move to unite and contest the forthcoming Assembly polls with force against the BJP which too has its own set of problems,” pointed out a senior media person based in Shimla.

He said that Shinde too is behaving in a very mild manner.

“He might have worked wonders elsewhere in the past but here he is not the person whose message goes down to the last man in the party,” he explained.

“There is hardly any programme on the ground. The message going out is that of hiatus setting in. It appears that everyone has resigned himself to the trend of the two forces – the BJP and the Congress – coming to power on alternate occasions,” admitted a Congress insider.

The Congress workers are disillusioned with the functioning of Shinde who they say continues to function like the Congress leaders of the olden times.

Sources say that the party high command too is not very keen on Himachal as this is evident with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi not addressing any public meeting till now while he has done so in Karnataka and Gujarat, both.

It is also being said that the Congress' top brass is laying maximum emphasis on the Karnataka Assembly polls due early next year.

With the party being in a shambles in Gujarat and Himachal being too small a state and that too where the government is facing anti incumbency, the party leaders are more keen on a victory in a bigger state, like Karnataka, and retain its citadel in the south.

First published: 22 August 2017, 18:41 IST