Chief minster Virbhadra Singh's tour to Una district on Wednesday to lay the foundation stone of the fourth phase of the Swan river flood management project once again brought to the fore the veiled groupism and smouldering differences between the senior party leadership of the district.
Differences between Virbhadra loyalist industry minister and Haroli MLA Mukesh Agnihotri and Gagret MLA Rakesh Kalia are no secret because the latter had entered politics 11 years ago as a Stokes prodigee.
Now, while Virbhadra and Stokes have reconciled, the CM has still not allowed Kalia a close access in contrast to Agnihotri, who is considered the CM's blue-eyed boy.
During his address at the public meeting in Kangar village after the foundation stone ceremony, Kalia complained from the stage that his constituency was lagging behind in development as compared to Haroli.
Kalia took pride in mentioning that he was the AICC secretary and in-charge of party affairs in Madhya Pradesh, working on the directions of Rahul Gandhi, while Virbhadra Singh was also nominated in the state as chief minister by the Gandhi family. He pleaded that since he was usually out of his segment for party work, the CM should shower some extra patronage on Gagret.
Kalia even complained that the foundation stone of the Swan project should have been laid in Gagret, where the river starts and not in Haroli, where the river ends in Himachal Pradesh and enters Punjab. He requested a similar function in Gagret, but the CM was heard replying that this one was a combined foundation stone for channelisation of all 73 tributaries of the river and there could not be two foundation stones for one project.
Kalia later congratulated Agnihotri for succeeding in managing CM's visit to Haroli to lay the foundation stone here since Agnihotri was close to Virbhadra Singh.
From the stage, he also protested the CM's continued patronage towards some party leaders from Gagret, who he said had allegedly opposed him during the last elections. He left the function early on the pretext of some pending party work in Madhya Pradesh.
A former Virbhadra loyalist, Chintpurni MLA and former minister Kuldip Kumar had reportedly stepped back after being denied the cabinet berth which went in favour of Agnihotri.
However, he is now a chairman with a cabinet status, but reportedly nurses a grudge against Agnihotri on the issue of one-upmanship in the district. Both, Kalia and Kumar have reportedly joined hands against Agnihotri.
Agnihotri, however, has the support of two Congress candidates from Una district, who had lost the last elections.
Satpal Raizada, candidate from Una Sadar segment, announced from the stage that while he regarded Virbhadra Singh as the undisputed leader of the party in the state, Agnihotri was the leader of the party in Una district.
Kutlehar party candidate and former Vidhan Sabha deputy speaker Ram Das Malangar, who also addressed the public, tried to tread the middle path, but in the end, signaled that it was Agnihotri who could bring in some development in Kutlehar due to his proximity with the CM.
As if replying to Kalia's protests, Agnihotri said, “If coming close to Virbhadra Singh is a crime, then I had committed and will continue to commit this crime again and again.” As Agnihotri spoke, the CM was seen cheering the former time and again. He was all praise for the industry minister and agreed to fulfil all demands put forward by him.