The term of state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who took over the party’s reins more than a year ago, has been shrouded with controversies. There have been sharp differences between Sukhu and chief minister Virbhadra Singh over appointments to the party and government, with both recently slugging it out over the distribution of tickets for the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
Have there been differences between you and chief minister Virbhadra Singh over the allocation of tickets, as in spite of you demanding that they be given to party men, the party has chosen outsider Rajinder Rana to contest in Hamirpur?
The party had worked out a consensus on Mandi, Kangra and Shimla, but when industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri opted out from Hamirpur, the ticket was given to Rana. I never opposed him. I still say the party should favour its own people who have proved their loyalty, but accept that in some circumstances, certain things become unavoidable.
Then why did you and your supporters skip Rana’s rally in Hamirpur?
Rana had held a formal meeting in Hamirpur after getting the ticket, just like other candidates. It was not a rally. If there is some resentment, I will resolve it and handle his campaign in Hamirpur.
Certain people on whom the Congress was relying have begun returning to the BJP. Do you think there is a ‘Modi wave’?
There is no ‘Modi wave’ in the state or in the country. Narender Thakur, who earlier contested against Anurag Thakur, is one such case. Narender was not a Congress legislator, as he contested five elections and lost every time. His was not the ideology of the Congress. His sister-in-law is in the Bharatiya Janata Party and his father Jagdev Chand was a respected BJP leader. Till date, no leader who has been in the Congress for a long time has changed his loyalties.
Why does the party still lack a strong leader in Hamirpur? This time too, the Lok Sabha ticket was given to a non-Congressman.
The Congress has a leadership in Hamirpur. In politics, sometimes, there is politics in ticket distribution. Due to internal politics, such things happen sometimes.
What is your opinion on nepotism? Hasn’t Virbhadra Singh promoted dynastic politics?
I believe that whoever enters politics should have at least worked in the party, and should come forward on his merit and if he has public acceptance. A father will always promote his son in every profession, not just politics. A father is the guiding force for his son. However, it is up to the son to prove himself worthy. It is true that people who hail from political families have an edge over the grassroots workers.
Do you find Virbhadra’s larger-than-life image threatening?
His stature is an inspiration for me, not a challenge. We should learn from his experience.
Do you find being the chief of the state unit of the Congress challenging? If yes, what is the biggest challenge that you have to face?
Yes, it is definitely challenging. An organisation is like a mother who gives birth to leaders. If a leader becomes bigger than the organisation, it is harmful for the party. In HP, we are reworking the organisational structure and giving preference to grassroots workers. To ensure coordination between all senior leaders was one of the biggest challenges before me, and I have succeeded in doing it.
Do the actions of the government and the party reflect the differences between you and Virbhadra Singh?
Virbhadra Singh is the chief minister and an experienced leader. At times, there is a difference of opinion, but it gets resolved with his experience. If we say something, that’s our suggestion, not opposition, and the CM accepts it.
You have been talking about reworking the organisation, while the CM has given preference to individual loyalties while making political appointments in his government...
It is true that individual loyalties get more preference than the organisation’s loyalists, but it is the CM’s prerogative to adjust some of his supporters in the party. All government and party posts are finalised through consensus. While several people want government or party posts, some criteria is there.
You and your party appear to have a dual stance on the ‘one man, one post’ principle, with many leaders holding a post in both party and government.
After the election, a decision will be taken on ‘one man, one post’. Dual posts were just a stop-gap arrangement. I did what I wanted to do. We have not taken the rebels back and will take them back on merit, according to the criteria I have set. For the first time, they are feeling that they have contested against the party.