A day before the all-important All India Congress Committee session on Friday, chief minister Virbhadra Singh on Thursday made a bid to exhibit his political strength, even as many of his detractors were conspicuous by their absence.
At the time of filing criminal defamation case before the chief judicial magistrate at Chakkar, the CM was flanked by several cabinet ministers, chief parliamentary secretaries, legislators, and chairmen and vice-chairmen of various state government boards and corporations.
From the court complex at Chakkar, the CM straight away went to his official residence, Oak Over, to brief the media on the defamation suit he filed against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitely, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his two sons, Anurag and Arun Thakur.
The CM, at the press conference, showed his strength as his cabinet ministers, chairmen and legislators took seats on a specially erected dais on the lawns of his official residence. About 50 chairs were put on the dais, in a makeshift camp erected particularly for the press conference. To ensure publicity, OB vans of leading news channels were called for live telecast.
Barring health minister Kaul Singh Thakur and rural development minister Anil Sharma, all the other nine ministers sat beside the CM at the press conference.
Those present included IPH and horticulture minister Vidya Stokes, transport minister GS Bali, forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmuori, social justice minister Dhani Ram Shandil, power minister Sujan Singh Pathania, urban development minister Sudhir Sharma, excise minister Parkash Chaudhary and industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri.
Chief parliamentary secretaries Vinay Kumar, Neeraj Bharti, Jagjivan Pal and Mansa Ram were also present. Besides, three cabinet-rank chairmen - Ram Lal Thakur of the 20-point programme, Kuldeep Kumar of the state finance commission, and Gangu Ram Musafir of the state planning board were also present. Other chairmen of state corporations and boards- including Subash Manglait of APMC, Kewal Singh Pathania of forest corporation, Hardeep of Himachal Pradesh Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, and Atul Sharma of state industrial development corporation -were also present. The show of strength came a day before the special session of the AICC and Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting at Delhi, and is being seen as an indirect indication by the CM to the party's higher ups that he still commands significant support in the state.
To ensure that all his cabinet ministers remained in the state capital, the CM had strategically planned a cabinet meet that was scheduled immediately after his press conference. Sources have told Hindustan Times that the CM and his loyalist ministers had themselves telephonically asked Congress MLAs, CPSes and ministers to ensure their presence at the press briefing.
The CM tactfully avoided media queries and read out an already prepared note. Virbhadra said that he would not take any questions from the media and made a hasty exit from the dais. While all the cabinet ministers quickly left along with him to attend the meeting , industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri, who also holds the portfolio of information and public relations, stayed back to answer to media queries. This was the first time that Virbhadra held a press conference in Shimla, after serious charges of quid pro quo to a power company were levelled by the Opposition. The CM, after the cabinet meeting, left for New Delhi to attend the meeting of AICC session scheduled for Friday. Many of his loyalist ministers also left along with him.