Shimla: A fierce fight over the Chief Minister’s post has broken out in the Congress after the party’s victory in the Himachal Pradesh elections.
The Congress has won 40 seats in the assembly polls—the results of which were announced on Thursday.
The BJP, which was eyeing at the power for the second successive term with slogans like “riwaaz Badalenge” could win only 25 seats.
The infighting in the Congress came to the fore in the state capital on the arrival of party’s Central observers, who faced slogan shouting supporters of PCC president Pratibha Singh outside the posh hotel Oberoi Cecil where the meeting was held.
As soon as Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and former chief minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda — and AICC in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla arrived, a group of Congressmen stopped their car and started raising slogans asking them to make Pratibha Singh the Chief Minister.
The observers had invited the newly elected party MLAs and leaders to Shimla for consultations to elect their leader, who will eventually take-over as the state’s new Chief Minister.
But, as a show of strength, Pratibha Singh’s supporters arrived in good numbers and started shouting slogans demanding the PCC president be chosen as the Chief Minister.
Some senior leaders tried to pacify them and advised them not to create a ruckus on the streets but they refused to budge even when the observers decided to move to ‘Rajiv Bhawan,’ the Congress party office . There too, the slogan shouting continued for a while.
Earlier to this the three leaders headed to Raj Bhawan to meet Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar and shared the list of the party’s winning MLAs. They reportedly also sought time to formally stake claim to form the government once the process for electing the leader was completed.
Congress has indicated that a resolution will be passed authorising the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge to name the leader, after seeking views of the MLAs.
The three front-runners of the post include PCC Pratibha Singh, who is a third-time sitting MLA , former party chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and outgoing CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri. All have staked their claim to the post citing their own merits to the party high command.
As three other CM post aspirants– Kaul Singh Thakur, Asha Kumari and Ram Lal Thakur have lost their elections, the choice has narrowed down to three leaders.
Pratibha Singh, who later also held a meeting with the observers, told reporters that the party can’t ignore the legacy of the state’s tallest leader, referring to her late husband.
“We fought the election in the name of Virbhadra Singh, highlighted his contributions for the state and sought votes in his name. Today’s victory of the Congress can well be attributed to him. So, they (high command) can’t just ignore this fact if we have to follow the Virbhadra Singh model of development,” she asserted.
Mukesh Agnihotri, a fifth time MLA, also has staked his claim, saying the high command was well aware of the fact as to who really led the battle against the BJP, within the state assembly as leader of opposition, and also tried to build a narrative of anti-incumbency against the BJP rule. He had been a cabinet minister during Virbhadra Singh’s Chief Ministership.
Sukhu, on the other hand, has been flaunting his support of MLAs and has made his ambition quite public. He had remained close to most outgoing MLAs–many having got re-elected, besides adding few more to his list.
Sukhu supporters are also posing questions as to whether the party can afford two bypolls if Pratibha Singh was elected as Chief Minister since he was sitting MP and had to get elected to the House within the next six months.
In answer to this, Vikramaditya Singh, her son and two-time MLA said: “ Where is the rule suggesting denial of position to a sitting MP or non-MLA ?”
In all probability the battle for the Chief Ministerial post in the Congress is likely to get more intense in the coming days—a reflection of infighting and factionalism that remained buried in the poll campaign or ticket distribution.