Everyone is well aware of the silent war going on between the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and the Congress party state president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. Recently when the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had kick-started the election campaign in the state, it was for the first time that both the fighting leaders had shared the stage together.
It was believed that Rahul Gandhi had found a middle way out acceptable to both the leaders and hence peace was finally sought out in the party. However, the compromise did not seem to have solved much in the state. But since the elections are approaching, the party has decided to just go on for the time being.
Rahul, giving the compromise formula had said that the incumbent Chief Minister will continue to represent the party and remain in the post if the party wins the polls. He further said that Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu would remain president of the Congress’ Himachal Pradesh unit. The fight between Singh and Sukhu was of power, Singh wanted to appoint a member of his choice on the post of the party president so that he could do the distribution of the tickets during the poll to his loyal ones, however, Sukhu was a choice of Rahul Gandhi.
Earlier Virbhadra Singh had threatened that he will boycott the assembly election if Sukhu was not replaced as the party president, though as per the latest developments, he seemed to have accepted the decision of Rahul, though grudgingly.
The party has already wasted a lot of time on the grounds of the internal differences and now the compromise formula given by Rahul is unlikely to undo the damage caused. As if this was not enough to hamper the party’s president the corruption charges against the Himachal Pradesh chief minister and the massive anti-incumbency against Singh’s government on account of poor governance and deteriorating law and order in the hill state are also matters of concern for the party.
The threat given by the CM is not so new and it is not the first time that Virbhadra Singh has threatened to quit just before the elections. In the run-up to the last assembly polls, Singh had threatened to join the NCP if he was not appointed state unit chief and projected as the chief ministerial candidate.
That time Congress high Command Sonia Gandhi had come to aid, pacifying the angry leader and the party had won the polls. Though the time that time was different, Sonia had gone out of the way to agree to the conditions of the Singh because she was well aware that with his help the party could not win. This time the situations are totally different, Rahul does not wish to make any compromises like his mother. The Nehru-Gandhi scion is known to have differences with Singh.
It is also believed that Singh has been taking advantage of his seniority and the faith he enjoys in the state and has been boasting about it in front of Sonia Gandhi. It is also assumed that Singh makes sure that the party and the senior leadership becomes well aware of the damage he can do to the party if they fail to give in to his demands. But Rahul however, did not fall for the tantrums of Singh and it could be because he might have received the feedback that the party, with or without Singh is on shaky grounds no matter what.
A senior state Congress leader said that “Sukhu is basically Rahul Gandhi’s choice and he’s unwilling to let him go.” After the compromise formula given by Rahul, it now seems like that the fight is between Singh and Rahul rather than Singh and Sukhu. However, the party members in the state also agreed to the fact that even though the Singh government may be facing anti-incumbency, he does not have any match when it comes to the clout and charisma among the people.
Few members also expressed the concern that the Congress party may have to pay a heavy price for sidelining or ignoring Virbhadra Singh as the party does not any other strong and acceptable face for the elections.
On the other hand, Virbhadra also accepted the compromise formula given by Rahul as he does not seem to have any other choice. Since the Central Bureau of Investigation has weakened the position of the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh by imposing the disproportionate assets case against him. Moreover, Singh also wants to be on the right side of the party for his other personal reasons. He wants to launch his son Vikramaditya in politics and everyone is well aware of the fact that Rahul is soon to be the resident of Congress. In such circumstances going against the orders of the future, party president may be a heavy price t pay for Singh’s son.
Meanwhile, Congress is busy solving its internal issue, just like it had done in Gujarat, the BJP in Himachal also is taking advantage of the situation and luring the people to their side. Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the state to inaugurate a number of projects including the laying of foundation stone for AIIMS. During his visit, while addressing the rally, Modi had well attacked the ruling Virbhadra Singh government in the state. Pointing out the CBI cases charged against the CM, he had said that the government in Himachal is on bail, why don’t the people change the government.
While despite the internal differences Congress seem to be confident that it can still nail down the polls using the issues of the slowdown in the economy. A Congress state leader said that “This is a powerful weapon not just in the state but also at the national-level. We should focus on job losses, price rise and the poor implementation of GST, as the weapon against BJP during the election campaign.”
He underlined that Himachal is the state most affected by the slowdown in the economy, as it depends on tourism. He also suggested that the Congress should use this as a strong point and target the BJP in a sustained campaign, which the party is yet to do.
In the prevailing situation, BJP is pretty sure of winning the polls and the names of the Chief Ministerial candidate are also being discussed. Former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh PK Dhumal, who still enjoys the widespread support in the state seems to be the first choice of BJP. However, the Union Health Minister JP Nadda may also be named as the BJP candidate.
Other than this the strategic party machinery of BJP has also begun with the election campaign, unlike the Congress. The party id targetting the dominant caste groups of Brahmins and Thakurs, as well as it is focusing on the minorities. In order to woo the Dalits which compromise almost 26% of the state’s population, the party has launched a massive campaign.