In Himachal Congress, Battle On For Chief Minister: “Pratibha ji Should Get…” – NDTV

Himachal Congress chief Pratibha Singh with son Vikramaditya. (File)


After the Congress looked set for a win in Himachal Pradesh — on a day of historic loss in Gujarat — the first shot at the chief minister’s chair in the hill state came from the camp of state party chief Pratibha Singh, wife of the late Virbhadra Singh who was the Congress’s tallest leader here until his death last year.

Her son and MLA Vikramditya Singh said, “As a son, I want Pratibha ji to get a big responsibility.” He added, however, on who’ll lead the government:

“Besides being a son, I am also a responsible leader of the party. We will respect whatever the party decidesI am sure the party will take into account what the people want,” added the young leader, also the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Rampur-Bhushahr. 

Having retained his Shimla Rural seat, he gave credit for the win to his late father’s legacy. “We have to walk the path shown by Virbhadra ji. The government will work on the ‘Virbhadra Singh vikas model’. He must be smiling today in heaven.” he told NDTV.

Pratibha Singh is currently Lok Sabha member from Mandi, a seat vacated by Virbhadra Singh’s death. 

There are two other contenders besides her — current Leader of Opposition Sukhvinder Sukhu, and Mukesh Agnihotri — which is why the party feared BJP’s “Operation Lotus”, code for PM Narendra Modi’s party getting MLAs to switch loyalties to topple Opposition parties’ governments. The Congress suffered this in Madhya Pradesh not long ago.

No wonder the party is taking cautious steps in the hill state. Party observer Rajeev Shukla told reporters that MLAs may be moved to Chandigarh, 90 km away, “for convenience”, and said the BJP’s poaching attempts will not succeed if the Congress crosses 40, five above the majority mark in the 68-member assembly.

On who will be chief minister, Mr Shukla took the familiar Congress line: “The high command will decide after discussion with MLAs.”

Sources earlier said MLAs may be taken to Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh, the only two states where the Congress has chief ministers, after a pitstop in Chandigarh, if the margin remained slender. But the party later denied any such plan.

Mr Shukla said a meeting of MLAs may be called in Chandigarh “because people from all regions can easily reach there”. Two other observers — Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Haryana leader Bhupinder Hooda — are reaching Chandigarh too.

Many winning candidates already gathered at Pratibha Singh’s home in Shimla, Holy Lodge, the centre of Congress activities since the time of her late husband Virbhadra Singh, the state’s tallest Congress leader until his death last year.

Congress in-charge Tajinder Singh Bittu said earlier today, “We are taking our leaders to Chandigarh and closing our doors and windows as the BJP will try to poach, as they have done many times in the past.”

Himachal is essential to giving the Congress some confidence as today it lost badly in PM Modi’s home state Gujarat.

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