BJP was sending feelers... I was clear my future is in Congress: Vikramaditya Singh | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

BJP was sending feelers... I was clear my future is in Congress: Vikramaditya Singh

Apr 17, 2024 09:02 AM IST

Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut is trying to beat Congress minister Vikramaditya Singh, who has stepped in for his mother Pratibha Singh

New Delhi One of the most talked about electoral fights in these Lok Sabha polls is being fought in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi constituency, where Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut is trying to beat Congress minister Vikramaditya Singh, who has stepped in for his mother Pratibha Singh.

Vikramaditya Singh (PTI)
Vikramaditya Singh (PTI)

What makes the fight interesting is that, earlier this year, both mother and son were ostensibly part of a rebellion against Congress chief minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, which led to six lawmakers moving to the BJP, party’s Rajya Sabha candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi losing despite having what was seen as a safe margin, and the party having to rush top leaders to keep the flock together. The party is in a precarious position and Vikramaditya Singh’s candidature is being seen as its latest gamble. He spoke to HT’s Sunetra Choudhury. Edited excerpts:

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What do you make of your opponent Kangana Rawat?I respect her as an individual and the work that she has done in Bollywood, but I doubt that she has done anything for the state of Himachal Pradesh. She has been continuously claiming that she belongs to Mandi and Manali but during the time that disaster struck Himachal (last year’s floods), there was no help forthcoming from her. She is a famous Bollywood personality but I would like to ask how many people has she given an opportunity in her production companies. There are other successful women in the state who have done a lot of work in the judiciary, in the civil services, and other fields; and she’s one of them, but nothing more. The Himachal ki Beti narrative is a farce to get emotional votes from the people, and it’s not going to cut much ice.

What’s your poll pitch going to be?I won’t be mentioning her name at all. For me, we are fighting against the might of the BJP government and organisation. The kind of discrimination the central government did with Himachal Pradesh during the entire turbulent period that we had in the state (monsoon floods killed 400 in July last year), massive loss of 15,000 crores, there was no support from the Centre. We were there constantly in the constituencies, my mother (the sitting MP) was on ground zero with the chief minister. And we have been working 24x7 for the people of the area. That’s the pitch that we will be taking forward, along with the work done by successive Congress governments, and my vision for the area in how we will create employment for the people.

It’s quite a significant seat. When your mother won the by poll here, it was from the sitting chief minister’s home turf.It has an emotional connect with our family and has been a Congress bastion for decades. It was represented by my father (Vurbhadra Singh) for three terms, and after that my mother has also represented it three times now. Pandit Sukhram ji, who was the telecom minister, has also represented the area. So yes, we have a good connect with the area and it is my privilege that the party has given me the ticket even though I didn’t apply for it. I am a sitting cabinet minister and I wanted to serve the people in a different capacity but now that the party has asked me to, I have never shied away from any responsibility and we will fight it out.

Speaking of party, you were in the news as someone who was unhappy with what your party was doing in the state. Six people left the party and they were known to be your supporters. Are things still in turmoil in the party?Firstly, I want to clarify that the MLAs who have left are senior people, and they have represented their constituencies multiple times. I don’t think they will be influenced by me to lead the rebellion or quit the party. Now it is turning out that there were some monetary transactions as well, it has to be investigated.

Are you saying they were paid?Yes. But I am a person that believes in calling a spade a spade and there were some shortcomings, some grievances, which I raised. I have been doing that in the past also, because in the organisation and in the government, I believe in putting across my views very clearly, whether people like it or not. I raised my issues with the high command and they have taken note of it, they have taken corrective measures and everything is okay now. I am not a person to be cowed down by any pressure, I put my foot down. We are working as a team in unity now. If something does crop up in the future, I will keep my principles high.

At that time, were you tempted to join the BJP?I would say that the BJP was sending feelers to me and other individuals also. I cannot speak for anybody else, but I was absolutely clear that my future is in the Congress party. Yes, we can have differences and can have different ideologies but we belong to this organisation, we can have ups and downs, but continue to be here and take the party forward.

Some people say that you or your mother will not move to the BJP because your father was summoned in 2014 by CBI on the day your sister was getting married?Definitely, the vindictiveness of the BJP government is for everyone to see. That was the beginning when we faced this way back in 2014. People at that time didn’t imagine that this could happen to a sitting chief minister. Now, it has become a very common thing where two sitting chief ministers are sitting in jail. It’s not a big deal now, but yes, this kind of things happen in politics and the kind of witch-hunt that has been unleashed by the current political dispensation astonishes everybody.

So you weren’t surprised when the CMs were arrested because it happened first with your father?Yes, at that point I was surprised but in hindsight, it’s quite common now.

Changing track, I have to ask you about the Old Pension Scheme which was a major promise in Himachal but has been left out of the Congress’ s2024 manifesto. Is there a rethink on that?We have already implemented it in Himachal Pradesh in the first cabinet. The benefit has started rolling out but yes, some 9,000 crore has to be brought back from the Central government. Because of that the implementation is tardy at the moment but we will keep our pressure high. This is the only state where it has been rolled out because the BJP government has rolled it back in Rajasthan.

Why hasn’t Congress promised it at the central level?I am not sure. I think the central leadership will be in a better position to explain why they didn’t do it. I think it is probably because Himachal Pradesh has around 2.5 lakh employees which is a substantial number compared to other states.

Aren’t people wary of voting for the Congress because some of the leaders eventually join the BJP?We don’t have it in Himachal Pradesh, but yes, the fact that this has been happening nationally is something that the Congress leadership should think about. Why is this exodus happening on such a large scale? We can blame the BJP for what they’re doing, their use of agencies and excesses. At the same time, we need to take some corrective measures in our party also because always blaming the other side, isn’t the right way. We have to do a lot of introspection and in the long term, build our organisation, and see that leaders who are committed to the ideology are promoted.

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