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Gaurav Bisht, Hindustan Times
Shimla, December 21, 2012
As the Congress settles down after celebrating its victory in the Vidhan Sabha elections, the battle within has now begun for the chief minister's chair. While legislators owing allegiance to state Congress president and five-time former CM Virbhadra Singh met him at his house in Shimla, those from the rival camps have reached Delhi.

Also, in a rare gesture of bonhomie, Virbhadra called on Vidya Stokes, who is being seen as a contender for the chair. Meanwhile, Virbhadra's detractor and former state Congress chief Kaul Singh Thakur, former education minister Asha Kumari and former transport minister GS Bali reached Delhi.

The Congress Legislature Party (CLP) is likely to meet on Saturday in Shimla. Congress national general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi, Himachal affairs in-charge Birender Singh and Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit are likely to arrive here as observers. 

It is learnt that Birender was keen on holding the CLP meeting in Delhi. But Virbhadra's supporters advised him against it. "Our legislators will meet in Shimla," said Virbhadra, adding, "My mandate was to get back the party back in power. Now the final call will be taken by our president Sonia Gandhi."

Among the first few who met Virbhadra were Dharamsala MLA Sudhir Sharma and Rampur legislator Nand Lal on Thursday evening. Journalist-turned-leader, Congress MLA from Haroli, Mukesh Agnihotri also met Virbhadra and then accompanied him to Stokes' house.

The youngest MLA, Yadavinder Goma, 26, also paid a visit, besides Khoob Ram from Ani, who made a comeback after 20 years. Among others who camped at Holy Lodge was Virbhadra's ardent supporter Jagjivan Pal, while Dhani Ram Shandil also called on him. Neeraj Bharati from Jawali came with his father, former Lok Sabha member Chander Kumar Chaudhary. The list included Bhumber Thakur from Bilaspur.

Virbhadra's trusted lieutenant, state Congress vice-president Harsh Mahajan said many other legislators were on their way to Shimla.

On Friday morning, Virbhadra called on the incumbent CLP leader Vidya Stokes at Bhumia Estate, her private residence. Though it's not known what really transpired between the two Congress veterans, this much is known that they discussed the selection of the next leader.

Stokes, who won from Theog, said, "Virbhadra Singh-ji had expressed the desire to meet me.  He came to my house since I was unwell." She denied denied that she was in the race: "It's all the media's creation. The final call will be taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, while the next leader will be chosen by the CLP."