Himachal Pradesh: Why the Congress crisis was destined | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Himachal Pradesh: Why the Congress crisis was destined

Feb 28, 2024 05:34 PM IST

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had gathered a staggering 69% of the vote share in Himachal Pradesh.

When the author arrived two-and-a-half hours later than expected at the Shimla resort from Delhi, the staff asked if he had faced “farmer” problems on the way. All of them were contemptuous of the protest and roadblocks carried out by Punjab farmers. When they learnt that the author is a journalist travelling all over India for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, quite a few were willing to offer opinions. This was at about 4 PM on February 25.

Leader of Opposition in the Himachal Pradesh assembly, Jairam Thakur speaks to the media after staging a walkout on Wednesday. (ANI)
Leader of Opposition in the Himachal Pradesh assembly, Jairam Thakur speaks to the media after staging a walkout on Wednesday. (ANI)

The manager who handled the reception hails from Hamirpur. He has an impish smile with a dimple. He told the author this was the right time to visit Himachal Pradesh as a political upheaval was unfolding. He was a tad disappointed on learning that I was less interested in the nitty gritty of Himachal politics. Yet, his “forecast” was that the author would be compelled to think, if not write about events in Himachal. He was backed up by a lady manager keen on signing up the author to join a special privileged members program. She belongs to Sanjauli near Shimla.

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As the author reached Delhi back on February 27 via Saharanpur to avoid the “annadatas” blocking highways, television news flashed a press conference where the Congress Rajya Sabha candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi graciously accepted defeat and congratulated his winning rival Harsh Mahajan.

Also read: Vikramaditya Singh my brother, no question of accepting his resignation: Himachal CM

Incidentally, Mahajan is a long time Congress ex-member and close aide of the late Virbhadra Singh (six times chief minister of Himachal Pradesh) who joined the BJP a few years ago. Behind the grace displayed by Singhvi, the dismay and disappointment were stark. As was the stony expression of Congress chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukku who sat beside Singhvi. He looked as if he had been poleaxed all of a sudden. And why not? The Congress officially has 40 MLAs in the 68-member assembly while the BJP has just 25. Yet, enough Congress rebel MLAs changed a certain victory of the Congress into a humiliating defeat.

The author, who spoke to lots of journalists and ordinary citizens in the state, was clear that the Congress was almost “destined” to suffer embarrassment. There was a clear Ram Temple wave visible across the board and people were not happy at all with the official stand of the senior leadership of the party to “boycott” the consecration ceremony of the idol. In Bilaspur, the author met a group of Congress supporters who were livid with the top leadership. Their contention: “We are all ardent devotees of Shree Ram. We too have waited centuries for Ram Lalla to come back to his home. How can our top leaders deny us even our basic faith?”.

Also read: Amid Himachal crisis, Navjot Singh Sidhu slams 6 Congress MLAs; urges for ‘purge’ in party

The lead rebel Vikramaditya Singh, son of late Virbhadra Singh, had indeed “defied” party orders and gone ahead to attend the consecration ceremony on January 22. He has resigned as a minister and the Congress government is teetering on the verge of collapse. By the time events unfold further in the state, the author may not be able to minutely follow them as he will resume his travelling.

But the visit reinforces what many analysts and commentators have argued since January: the consecration ceremony of the Ram idol will have political and electoral consequences. Many are claiming that the Congress revolt in Himachal is more a sign of ambitions, ego and power than anything else. Since the Congress won a narrow victory in the December 2022 assembly elections (the party won a total about 26,000 more votes than the BJP in the entire state), there has been a tussle between two camps -- one loyalists of the late Virbhadra Singh and the other leaning towards Priyanka Gandhi's CM pick Sukhvinder Sukku.

They do have a point. But the author thinks Lord Ram has played a decisive role here. Rajneesh Sharma, a senior journalist who heads the ETV group operations in Himachal, said: “You see, Virbhadra Singh was an ardent Lord Rama devotee. So are almost all Congress voters. The party has invited trouble by not handling this issue in a more sensitive manner here”.

Do remember, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had gathered a staggering 69% of the vote share in Himachal Pradesh.

The author was in Ayodhya, Amethi and Raebareli two weeks ago. In the Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli, Congress supporters had openly expressed their anger at the Congress stand on the Ram Temple. It was no surprise to the author when SP MLAs Rakesh Pratap Singh and Abhay Singh, who have a lot of traction in the Gandhi family bastions, cross-voted in the Uttar Pradesh Rajya Sabha elections the same day. They implied their decision was influenced by their devotion towards Ram.

Need more be said?

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