For Congress veteran and five-time Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who was probably contesting his last assembly election, this one would be the most gratifying. He battled a slew of corruption allegations and also severe pulls and pressures within the state unit that he led. But not many can now deny that he has single-handedly catapulted the Congress to power in the hill state. The beaming septuagenarian was busy receiving flowers and sharing laddoos with his supporters at his residence, Holly Lodge, in Shimla when Gaurav Bisht caught up with him.
Q. What is the one factor that helped the Congress stage a comeback?
A: Lack of proper administrative by the Dhumal government was responsible for BJP's defeat, as development had come to a standstill. The BJP kept accusing the central government of discrimination, even when facts were to the contrary. The Dhumal government could not spend Rs. 10,000 crore provided by the UPA government for welfare schemes. In fact, this year alone, about Rs. 3,000 crore remain unspent. Be it roads, health or education, Himachal is in a poor condition. People did initially get carried away by the gimmicks and propaganda of the BJP; but soon discovered the truth.
Q. You have been the chief minister five times? Will this be your sixth term?
A. The chief minister will be decided by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. I don't want to jump the queue but, yes, I know my place well in the hierarchy. I am a disciplined soldier of the party.
Q. There are reports that the high command wanted to convene the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Delhi but you refused?
A. The Congress MLAs will meet in Shimla. The high command has appointed union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde as the observer. He will visit Shimla to hold consultations.
Q. You were appointed the state Congress chief just before the elections. Did you find the going tough?
A. I have never been afraid of challenges. But I do feel that our performance could have been better if we had a little more time.
Q. Right from the start of the poll campaign, you were very confident of a win. What made you so confident?
A. I have remained in politics for 50 years. I know the pulse of the people.
Q. Corruption was one of main poll planks during the elections. Do you think corruption persisted during the BJP rule?
A. Corruption was rampant during the BJP regime. Though I don't believe in politics of vendetta, but our government will certainly set up special investigative team for allegations of corruption during the BJP rule.
Q. There were lots of allegations against you in the elections.
A. The BJP did not waste any opportunity to malign my image. But I am a man of substance.
Q What will be your first priority after assuming power?
A. There is a lot of muck left by the BJP. I will take up a broom to clean that up first. Necessary changes in the government will be effected.
Q. And when do you propose to release the book you have written?
A. Well, that may take another five years.