Congress strongman and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh's visit to the capital town has fuelled aggression in the Congress party that had been lying low in the wake of intra-party squabbles. The police resorted to lathicharge against the Congress workers staging a gherao of the Vidhan Sabha and used tear gas to dispel the crowd.
It was an eventful day in the capital town. On one side of the Vidhan Sabha building at Ambedkar Chowk, Himachal Lok Morcha (HLM), a front by left parties and newly formed Himachal Lokhith Party (HLP), staged a protest, while on the other, Congress workers gathered near the Central Telegraph Office and marched towards the assembly.
Enthusiastic workers were carrying placards of Virbhadra Singh who arrived in the town for the first time after taking over the rein of the party. Singh arrived from Chandigarh in the noon. He was given a rousing welcome on his way to Shimla.
After arriving in Shimla, he straight away drove to the Central Telegraph Office to address the crowd gathered there. Singh along with other top party leaders, including AICC general secretary Birender Singh Chaudhary, AICC secretary Anees Ahmad, opposition leader Vidya Stokes and former PCC chief Kaul Singh Thakur, addressed party workers there.
The Congress leaders, one after the other, lambasted the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state. The leaders accused the BJP government of patronising corruption. The party office-bearers and legislators were also present at the rally.
The district administration had permitted the Congress to stage their protest near the Central Telegraph Office. However, the leaders, accompanied by hundreds of party workers, marched towards the Vidhan Sabha despite the police tried to prevent them. The police had erected barricades to stop the crowd from reaching the Vidhan Sabha at the square near the Accountant General's office.
They again tried to stop the crowd near the Railway Board building but in between some youth pelted stones at the police personnel. Seeing the situation deteriorating, the police used tear gas and water cannons against the protesters.
Apprehending that the situation would turn ugly, the police resorted to lathicharge against the protesters, injuring about two dozen people.
Former minister Harsh Mahajan too was injured in the lathicharge. All India Congress Committee secretary Anees Ahmad said Virbhadra Singh, Birender Singh, Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh, Mukesh Agnihotri, Harshwardhan, Kuldeep Pathania and he himself were technically arrested by the police.
However, Shimla deputy commissioner Arun Sharma denied that the leaders were arrested. "We had only permitted the Congress to stage a rally at Central Telegraph Office. The Congress workers illegally marched towards the Vidhan Sabha," said Sharma.
Inspector general of police, south range, AP Siddique said, "Our main objective was to protect the Vidhan Sabha where its monsoon session is on. There was no intention to harm anybody or stop anybody," he said.
Meanwhile, Pradesh Congress Committee president Virbhadra Singh criticised the lathicharge on Congress workers. "It appears that the government has zero tolerance for any opposition in the state. The lathicharge was totally uncalled for since the workers were marching peacefully."