Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Defying age, 85-year-old Congress’ Virbhadra Singh still campaigns with gusto
On a campaign spree, Congress veteran Virbhadra Singh canvasses till late hours, criss-crossing different rural assembly segments in the four parliamentary constituencies to address three to four poll meetings a day.Updated: May 08, 2019 14:18 IST
Scion of the royal family of Rampur-Bushahr, Virbhadra Singh, addressed as Raja Sahib by his followers, is an old war horse of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh. He is only few days shy of turning 85, but when it comes to campaigning hard, the six-term chief minister can still give young leaders a run for their money.
On a campaign spree, Virbhadra canvasses till late hours, criss-crossing different rural assembly segments in the four parliamentary constituencies to address three to four poll meetings a day.
HT followed the veteran leader as he campaigns in the interiors of Indora, Fatehpur and Jawali sub-divisions of politically significant Kangra Lok Sabha seat.
It’s 8 am and at a hotel in the border town of Nurpur, his aides are making arrangements for the day’s journey. The former Nurpur legislator Ajay Mahajan has just arrived and is holding discussion with the party candidate Pawan Kajal.
The octogenarian leader, donning a Jodhpuri seat and green Himachali cap, emerges from his room after an hour. He takes feedback from Mahajan and Kajal about the situation in Kangra and they assure him about the party’s strong footing. After savouring a simple breakfast comprising fruits and cornflakes, Virbhadra takes time out to meet supporters waiting outside to meet him.
It’s a hot day with the sun beating down hard, the cavalcade sets off at 11:15 am towards Gangath—a small town in Indora assembly segment about 12km from Nurpur— running at least one hour behind schedule.
Enthusiastic party workers rush to welcome the former CM as he alights from his SUV. As the audience jostles to garland Virbhadra, supporters continue to shout slogans. Virbhadra, who entered electoral politics in 1962, tells people how Congress worked hard after independence to strengthen the country’s economy and towards overall development.
Speaking on the political scenario in Kangra, Virbhadra says Congress nominee Pawan Kajal was a strong candidate and rival leaders of the ruling BJP were mistaken if they consider him weak. “It’s the war for dominance in BJP that will help Congress win all four seats in Himachal,” says the veteran leader as he further touches upon every issue, national and local.
He also accused the BJP of playing divisive politics on the basis of caste, creed, region and religion.
“Unka kewal ek maksad hai, logon ko gumrah karke satta hasil karna (Their sole motive is to get into the power by misleading people),” Virbhadra tells attendees. He advises party workers to leave aside differences and work together to strengthen the party.
The poll meeting has consumed much time and Virbhadra is now headed for the next destination Fatepur.
But before that, he takes a lunch break where he eats simple dal-chawal and salad. At Fatepur, supporters are waiting anxiously for Virbhadra. Congress state secretary Ravi Rathore says although people were busy harvesting their wheat crop, they have taken time out to listen to the veteran leader. “Such is his charisma that people came here leaving their important work,” he says.
A short while later, about 2:15 pm Virbhadra’s fleet is seen taking a turn small dirt road to the venue from the national highway. As the afternoon sun sends the temperature soaring, fatigue seems to have taken its toll on the 84-year-old Virbhadra. The crowd jostles to greet their leader, while his aides help him remove the garlands and reach the stage.
Kushal Thakur, a long time security officer of Virbhadra, says the octogenarian leader now gets tired soon. “He doesn’t talk much and takes rest in the car when travelling. Sometimes, it leaves me in wonder as to how he keeps defying his age,” says Thakur.
Slams BJP in speech
Meanwhile, Virbhadra takes a jibe at BJP candidates stating they were hoping to secure victory on PM Modi’s name. However, he said the voters are wise and BJP and PM cannot befool them with ‘jumlas’.
He reminded the audience about how they have suffered due to BJP government’s disastrous steps like demonetisation and GST. “The public will not forgive the saffron party and will throw them out of power this election,” he says.
Virbhadra also slammed the state BJP government for failing to live up to people’s expectation, but had words of praise for CM Jai Ram Thakur. “Jai Ram is honest. He could do a lot for the state but a coterie of BJP leaders is not allowing him to work,” he says. He keeps his speech short as there is yet another meeting to be addressed.
Before leaving for the next venue in Jawali, Virbhadra makes it a point to meet his staunch supporter and former minister Sujan Singh Pathania, who is not keeping well. At Pathania’s residence Virbhadra inquires about his health while assuring him he will be fine soon.
After a 15 minute halt he heads for Jawali, where he gets a rousing welcome. While local leaders speak, Virbhadra takes time out to talk to this reporter. “It’s by God’s grace I am still going strong at this age,” says Virbhadra. When asked why he doesn’t feel the need to retire and take rest, Virbhadra says the thought comes to his mind more than often “but when it’s time to struggle I find myself once again at the front of my pack.”
“Your body gets tired only when your soul feel tired,” he says philosophically. Addressing the audience, he says speakers before him had addressed concerns and repeating it would not be wise. “I won’t repeat things, you people are wise and know what to do,” he says, concluding his short speech, and wraps up the day’s campaign.
It’s 6 pm and he is headed to Palampur for a night stay, preparing to be in Mandi the next day, for yet another day of campaigning.
First Published: May 08, 2019 14:15 IST