Bickering in Himachal Congress ahead of panchayat polls
Sukhu on Sunday spearheaded a closed-door meeting with a group of former legislators from Shimla districtUpdated: Oct 18, 2020, 21:51 IST
With elections to Panchayati Raj institutions and civic bodies round the corner, fault lines in the Himachal Congress have become apparent yet again with former state part chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu expressing dissatisfaction with the working of the state Congress committee and lobbying for a change in leadership.
Sukhu on Sunday spearheaded a closed-door meeting with a group of former legislators from Shimla district, which has eight assembly segments, to chalk out future. Former Jubbal-Kotkhai legislator Rohit Thakur, former Chopal legislator Subash Manglait , former Shimla legislator Harbhajjan Singh Bhajji, former Kasumpti legislator Sohan Lal and Deepak Rathore, who unsuccessfully contested the election from Theog during the last assembly elections, attended the meeting. Sukhu’s supporters had held similar meetings in Mandi and Kangra last month.
The incumbent Himachal Congress chief, Kuldeep Rathore, had replaced Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year. Former chief minister Virbhadra Singh had demanded Sukhu’s replacement. The Naduan MLA is the longest-serving state Congress president.
Legislators and leaders loyal to Sukhu are keen that high command either appoint him as state party chief or leader of opposition in the state assembly. A Congress leader in attendance, requesting anonymity, said, “We discussed the way forward for reviving the Congress. We need strong leadership in the state to take the party forward. The party has suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections and has lost two bypolls.”
Rathore, 55, who hails from Kumarsain in Theog, was once considered close to Congress Rajya Sabha member Anand Sharma. However, upon taking reins of the party he aligned himself with former chief minister Virbhadra Singh.
The clamour for change in the state Congress leadership had become shriller after the saffron party made a clean sweep in all four Lok Sabha seats - Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur. The BJP had won with a record margin of around 3 lakh votes in each seat and had secured around 72% of the polled vote share.
Rathore underplays meetings
Rathore, however, underplayed the meetings held by his rival group. “Party leaders are free to hold meetings. This is not tantamount to indiscipline,” he said.
Congress leaders had voiced their dissent when newly appointed party in-charge for Himachal affairs Rajiv Shukla had made his maiden visit to the party headquarters, Rajiv Bhawan, on September 25. Shukla has been gathering feedback from leaders and workers. Congress senior leader Asha Kumari, who was formerly in-charge of party affairs in Punjab and five-time legislator Harshwardhan Chauhan are other contenders for the post of state Congress chief.