Putting an end to all speculation, the Congress on Sunday appointed former chief minister Virbhadra Singh as the party president in Himachal Pradesh, replacing Kaul Singh Thakur.
Former union minister Virbhadra had earlier raised the demand of appointing his loyalist, former speaker Gangu Ram Musafir, as the working president, but later he stepped up pressure on the party high command to give him (Virbhadra) the party reins in the state. About 10 days ago, Virbhadra had even threatened to quit the party. Speculation had been rife that he could join Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.
Birender Singh Chaudhary, general secretary of the All-India Congress Committee and incharge of party affairs in Himachal, confirmed Virbhadra’s appointment as the party chief.
"The decision to appoint Virbhadra as the new party chief has been taken in principle. The formal announcement would come from the AICC headquarters," he said.
AICC secretary Anees Ahmad had called on Virbhadra at his residence to convey the Congress high command’s decision.
This is the third time that Virbhadra will head the state Congress unit. He was earlier appointed in 1977 and 1990. The high command’s move is being seen as an attempt to placate the Congress strongman.
Virbhadra, who turned 78 in June, had used his birth anniversary function to demonstrate his strength. As many as 21 MLAs had attended the event.
In an apparent bid to build pressure on the high command, Virbhadra had summoned his loyalist MLAs to New Delhi. Many of them had been camping in Delhi.
Virbhadra had to resign from the union cabinet, where he handled the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises, in June after a local court framed corruption charges against him and his wife, former Lok Sabha member Pratibha Singh, in the compact disc (CD) case.
Meanwhile, Kaul Singh Thakur could replace Vidya Stokes as Congress Legislature Party leader. Thakur had been heading the party unit since 2007. He had replaced Viplove Thakur after the party’s drubbing in the 2007 Vidhan Sabha elections.
Thakur, who is backed by union minister for commerce and trade minister Anand Sharma, is among the top contenders for the post of chief minister, should the Congress win the assembly elections later this year.
Thakur, who tendered his resignation as state Congress chief on Sunday morning, will be appointed CLP leader after the monsoon session beginning on Monday.
Party sources said there was a strong possibility that Stokes could be accommodated in the Congress Working Committee. Stokes was offered governorship, but she apparently declined the offer. Stokes had on Sunday afternoon met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and later defence minister AK Antony.
Sharma will now head the campaign committee, which was earlier being headed by Virbhadra.
Virbhadra is likely to arrive in Shimla on Tuesday. His supporters have planned to gherao the Vidhan Sabha on Wednesday. The gherao was earlier planned for Monday, but was put off following the developments in New Delhi.