There seems to be no end to infighting in the Congress even as newly elected legislators are yet to take oath. The tussle over recent appointments of chairmen of various boards and corporations by chief minister Virbhadra Singh has finally reached New Delhi.
The chief minister's detractors have complained to the party high command over the appointments of chairmen. Virbhadra Singh, after assuming office of the chief minister, has appointed chairmen of different boards and corporations. Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) vice-president Harsh Mahajan, one of most trusted confidantes of Virbhadra Singh, was first to appointed as a chairman.
Mahajan has been appointed the chairman of the less significant Himachal Pradesh Co-operative Bank which has its headquarters on the Mall Road, while former Congress legislator Kuldeep Pathania, who lost to BJP's Vikram Singh Jariyal with a narrow margin of over 100 votes, has been appointed chairman of Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board. Former forest minister Ram Lal Thakur has been appointed the chairman of 20-point programme committee.
Virbhadra Singh has showed his benevolence towards his trusted loyalist Kewal Pathania who was denied ticket to accommodate former tourism minister Vijay Singh Mankotia. Pathania has been appointed vice-chairman of Himachal Road Transport Corporation. Former Chopal MLA Subash Manglait has been appointed chairman of Himachal Pradesh Marketing Board. Hardeep Singh has been appointed chairman of the labour welfare board.
Virbhadra Singh's detractors are also upset over the appointment of additional and deputy advocate general. They alleged that majority of the appointments have been made from Shimla and Kinnaur district which has led to criticism. Senior Congress leaders who had earlier been hostile to Singh were of the view that instead of being benevolent towards loyalists, genuine party workers should be accommodated.
Virbhadra Singh's opponents, led by former education minister Asha Kumari, met All India Congress Committee president Sonia Gandhi to complain against Virbhadra Singh's style of functioning. Others who met Sonia Gandhi included Sundernagar legislator Sohan Lal, Palampur MLA Brij Bihari Butail, Nurpur MLA Ajay Mahajan, Gagret MLA Rakesh Kalia, Baijnath MLA Kishori Lal and Lahaul-Spiti MLA Ravi Thakur.
Virbhadra's detractors fear that they are being marginalised in the government since plum posts are being given to the loyalists. Brij Bihari Butail is upset over being denied a ministerial berth. Butail, one-time trusted aide of Virbhadra Singh, was the political adviser in the previous Congress government.
This time he had joined hands with former state Congress chief Kaul Singh Thakur. There are reports that former education minister Asha Kumari, who was denied a cabinet berth, is covertly lobbying for becoming the speaker, while Virbhadra Singh has already tipped former industries minister Kuldeep Kumar for the post. Gagret legislator Rakesh Kalia is also upset over being denied a cabinet berth. Virbhadra has inducted his loyalist Mukesh Agnihotri.
Virbhadra Singh held a series of meeting with central leaders in Delhi. Virbhadra Singh and All India Congress Committee general secretary Birender Singh held joint consultations with AICC president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmad Patel. On Friday afternoon, Birender Singh and Virbhadra Singh met to sort out the conflicting issues.
"Whatever appointments have been done is done. But in future, all the appointments will be made in consultations with party leaders," AICC general secretary Birender Singh told Hindustan Times over telephone from New Delhi.