Upbeat over its victory in Mandi Lok Sabha byelection, the Congress on Saturday went into a huddle to discuss strategies to dismantle the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stronghold in Hamirpur parliamentary seat.
Congress' top brass - chief minister Virbhadra Singh and party president Sukhvinder Singh 'Sukhu' with other leaders - held a marathon discussion to find ways to win back the Hamirpur seat. Industries minister Mukesh Agnohotri, food and civil supplies minister GS Bali, and chief parliamentary secretaries Rajesh Dharmani and Inderdutt Lakhan Pal were present.
Congress' deliberation on the Hamirpur seat came following party secretary in-charge Ambika Soni, who during her maiden visit to Shimla recently expressed concern over party's failure to win in the BJP's citadel. Soni had asked Congress leaders to find out ways to win back the Hamirpur segment.
The Congress had been biting the dust in Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat since the past 16 years. Suresh Chandel of the BJP had won the seat in 1998. He won again in mid-term in 1999 but had quit Parliament after his name surfaced in cash-for-question scam that rocked the political circles. At present, the seat is held by former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's elder son Anurag Thakur, who is also the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).
Majority of Congress leaders, including those from the block units, stressed the need to coordinate more between the party and the government. The majority view was that the party should declare its candidate in advance as Dhumal has a tight grip over Hamirpur. "This time, the Hamirpur seat has become a prestige for the party. The party should declare its candidate in advance so that that it gets enough time to tour the constituency and connect with the electorate," a party worker said.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh stressed on the need to put up a united face in Hamirpur. He exhorted party workers to publicise policies and programmes of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government among people of the state. "There is nothing impossible in this world. Even Dhumal has lost in Hamirpur. If we contest the elections as a united force and take the good works of the government to the masses, I see no reason why the Congress cannot win the Hamirpur seat," the chief minister said.
He said hard work always paid whether in politics or elsewhere. "I travelled 1,375 km on foot during my first elections in 1962." Singh minced no words in saying that there had been deterioration in the party over the years. He criticised opportunism in the party. "Some leaders quit the party and contested against official candidates. Earlier, if one was denied a ticket, he still worked for the party," Singh said.
He once again raked the telephone tapping issue at the party platform. "Nowhere in India have telephones been tapped."
Party president Sukvinder Singh 'Sukhu', who hails from Naduan in Hamirpur, opined that the present scenario was not in favour of Dhumal and his son Anurag, and it was the right time to break the jinx. "We have to work hard to win all four Lok Sabha seats and have to put in extra effort to win back the Hamirpur segment," Sukhu said.
The industries minister lauded the efforts made by the state government to develop Hamirpur, Bilaspur and Una districts and launch people-friendly schemes, including the IIIT in Una district. "People compare the BJP government's rule with that of Congress government's through the prism of development in lower Himachal," he said.