Burying their hatchet at least for a while, the state Congress leaders put up a united face at the coronation of Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, who formally took over as the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president on Tuesday.
Leaders, one after the other, harped on unity in the party but discomfort between rival factions was more than visible from their sarcasm-loaded speeches. Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu arrived three hours late than the scheduled time. The function was to start at 11am but Sukhu reached the party office at 2pm.
The coronation function started with honouring leaders who were presented caps and shawls. Sukhu presented a multi-coloured (Kulluvi) Himachali caps to the leaders, even as chief minister Virbhadra Singh wears a cap with a green band. Besides Virbhadra Singh, Sukhu honoured All India Congress Committee general secretary Birender Singh, AICC secretary Anees Ahmad and former HPCC presidents, including Vidya Stokes, Viplove Thakur, Kuldeep Kumar and Kaul Singh Thakur. While Kaul Singh Thakur and Birender Singh kept wearing the cap, others were quick to take them off their heads.
Speaking on the occasion, chief minister Virbhadra Singh warned his detractors against propaganda to destabilise his government. "Government is as strong as a rock. My government will complete full five-year term," he said. "Not only the party has emerged victorious in the Vidhan Sabha elections, it will also win all four Lok Sabha seats in the elections due next year."
Virbhadra Singh said the party can only be successful provided there is a blend of experience and youth. Virbhadra Singh suggested Sukhu to take along every section besides cooperation of senior leaders, which will ensure him success.
Virbhadra Singh asked Sukhu to ensure that new members are added to the party. "From the block level to PCC, there is need to take everyone along," he said.
Virbhadra Singh also warned against adopting unfair means in the organisational elections. "It should not be that the elections are held in some other corner and results are declared in some other corner," he said.
Virbhadra Singh apprised workers and leaders of his five-decade political career. "I had no godfather in politics. I became Lok Sabha member at 26 and I understand the importance of the youth," he said.
The chief minister suggested that the HPCC president should write his name as Sukhwinder Singh. He asked the party workers to dissuade from the calling him Sukhu.
Sukhu, in his speech, subtly countered Virbhadra Singh. Sukhu began his speech by heaping praise on the Gandhi-Nehru family and AICC president Sonia Gandhi.
He elaborated on his political career that began from student life. He said it was matter of pride that a man from common background has been appointed as PCC chief at the age of 49. Not once but thrice Sukhu expressed his gratitude to AICC general secretary Birender Singh, who was instrumental in getting him nominated as PCC chief. He said he was the chief servant of the party.
Taking a swipe at Virbhadra Singh, he said he took pride in his nickname Sukhu. "I became a president in college by name of Sukhu, then I became NSUI president by the name of Sukhu and then I became the state youth president. There are few leaders in the Centre who remember me by my actual name," he said. Sukhu said grassroots workers will be given a preference.
AICC general secretary Birender Singh harped on the party unity, saying it was the right time to groom second-rung leaders. Others who spoke on the occasion included Viplove Thakur, Kaul Singh Vidya Stokes and Kuldeep Kumar.
Posters in the Congress office had a picture of union commerce minister Anand Sharma ahead of chief minister Virbhadra Singh.
Virbhadra Singh warned against elections by unfair means.
Virbhadra Singh and Birender Singh suggested Sukhu to give up his nickname.
Sukhu mentioned that his nickname had added to his popularity.
Time and again, Sukhu heaped praise on Birender Singh.
Sukhu arrived at Congress office three hours late.
HPCC president presented Kulluvi caps to senior leaders.
AICC general secretary Birender Singh's pocket was picked.