Politics makes strange bed fellows. Former tourism minister Vijay Singh Mankotia's joining hands with Pradesh Congress Committee chief Virbhadra Singh has come as the biggest surprise of Himachal politics.
Political circles in the state are abuzz with the talk that what really transpired between Singh and Mankotia behind closed doors. Questions are being asked that whether Mankotia's patch up with Singh will help the party in returning to power or is it just another marriage of convenience between two political leaders.
Is Mankotia's entry into the party a tactical move made by Virbhadra to checkmate his newest rival former transport minister GS Bali or the last-minute compromise to wriggle him out from the court cases? Mankotia, who released a compact disc containing telephonic conservation of Singh, his wife Pratibha Singh with Indian Administrative Service officer Mohinder Lal, has so far not revealed the source. Rumour mills had it that Mankotia was prompted by a high-profile political leader.
Mankotia's return to the Congress, though, is being seen as a moral victory for Virbhadra Singh, it has led to heartburn among both rivals and supporters of Singh in Kangra. For long, Singh had promoted a young leader, Kewal Singh Pathania, from Shahpur. Pathania had even contested unsuccessfully to the Vidhan Sabha last time. Virbhadra Singh's last-minute compromise with Mankotia has jeopardised the political future of Pathania. Simultaneously, Singh detractors in Kangra are upset with the move. They have a reason to feel so. "It's astonishing to see that the man who wrecked the Congress in the last assembly elections is back in the party again," said Pathania.
Jodhpur MP Chandresh Kumari, former transport minister GS Bali and former Rajya Sabha member Viplove Thakur were opposed to Mankotia's entry to the Congress fold. Mankotia had released compact disc just on the eve 2009 parliamentary elections when present chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Congress' Ram Lal Thakur were in fray from Hamirpur. Dhumal won hands down since the compact disc was initially played in every nook and cranny of the state. Singh approached the court seeking ban on the compact disc. In June this year, a local court framed charges against Singh and his wife. Virbhadra Singh was forced to quit the union cabinet.
It was the downsizing of the cabinet in 2004 that made Vijay Singh Mankotia a foe of Virbhadra Singh. During the downsizing, Mankotia was dropped from the state cabinet along with Chandresh Kumari.
Though Chandresh continued her fight while remaining in the Congress, Mankotia launched a relentless tirade against Virbhadra Singh. Just before the 2007 assembly elections, Mankotia joined Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and spearheaded the campaign. Though BSP bagged one seat, the Congress rebels who contested on BSP symbol created roadblocks in the Congress' path to victory. Rebels made direct impact on 26 seats, affecting the Congress' prospects.
Both alumnus of Bishop Cotton School, Mankotia and Virbhadra had always had a love-and-hate relationship. Mankotia made his political debut in 1982 and won on the Congress ticket. In 1985, he again won the election but this time he fell apart with Virbhadra Singh.
The animosity between the two was so deep that Mankotia went to the extent of Virbhadra Singh's character assassination. Mankotia left the Congress and joined Janata Dal. Again in 1993, he returned to the Congress and successfully contested from Shahpur. In 1998, Mankotia lost to Sarveen Chaudhary.