Cong on crossroad; old guards verses new in Himachal
By: Ashwani Sharma
Politically a gentle state is witnessing a change though. The long dominance of political figures, who ruled the state, frequented by change of the power every five years in the past is slowly getting replaced. The BJP, currently ruling the state, has accepted the change with the time but the congress –a party that had been in the power for most of the years, is unable to find it easy.
The 2017 assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh- a state of about 70 lakh population- was particularly significant. It marked the emergence of young leadership on the state’s horizon. Well that was not without some twists and turns but still a welcome change for the state. The credit, of course, goes to the BJP, which handpicked Jai Ram Thakur, a five-time low profile, gentle and soft-spoken leader from Seraj—one of Mandi district’s backward hilly area, to take the state’s reins as new Chief Minister on December 27,2017. Though BJP had projected two-time former Chief Minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, as its Chief Ministerial nominee but since he lost the elections, contesting from a new constituency Sujanpur in his home district –Hamirpur , the choice fell on Thakur, a Rajput .
Agreeably ,Thakur ‘s rise to the top post was not sudden too .He was being groomed by the party to be prominent second-line leader .He had served as state BJP president in 2006-2007 when Prem Kumar Dhumal led the party to power in his second stint, and later also joined as cabinet minister .Thakur ,yet, been maintaining a low-key pose .
Thakur enjoys Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s backing is a fact ,which Modi demonstrated at Dharamshala when he joined government’s mega celebrations to mark Thakur’s one year in power.Three party veterans Shanta Kumar, union health minister J P Nadda and Prem Kumar Dhumal ,apart from top BJP leadership saw Modi patting Thakur for some of his initiatives in the state ,which in his view ,were aimed to state’s growth and political accountability in the governance .
Having lost power under party’s six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh,84,the congress seems to have not taken lessons .Virbhadra Singh dominated the state’s politics for 55 years, of which last four decades as Chief Minister, a sitting opposition MLA and also union minister in 2009-11,is not willing to give-up .He holds a strong base among the masses and party too .Thus, to emerge out of his shadows ,the congress leaders have neither will nor capability .
The BJP’s generational change did inspire the Congress High Command to pick-up a young face to head the 21-member Congress legislature party in the 68-member House .Mukesh Agnihotri, a journalist –turned –politician captured the space .The credit,ofcourse ,to his elevation as CLP leader (now leader of opposition) ofcourse again goes to Virbhadra Singh as it was his backing that opened the fortunes for Agnihotri as being former CM’s staunch lieutenant .Others like former PCC president Sukhwinder Sukhu and former Minister Ram Lal Thakur lost the race as they did not muster support of the MLAs, and also Virbhadra Singh .
Now, it’s open war in the Congress with old guards ,mainly Virbhadra Singh holding the ground and young leaders struggling to marginalise him .The tussle is grim ,and may turn more aggressive in the coming days beginning from the upcoming Lok Sabha polls .The factionalism in the congress is not a new when party inches to power . The surprise this time ,however ,is that it’s much earlier to state assembly polls,which are almost four year later.Thus, the infighting and dissensions growing in the opposition party is more about impending generational change .
What happened at the congress office –Rajiv Bhawan in Shimla on January 17 should be a worrying signal Congress president Rahul Gandhi . Only some days back ,he had replaced incumbent PCC president Sukhwinder Sukhu with Kuldeep Singh Rathore ,a former PCC general secretary and loyalist of former Union Minister Anand Sharma ,who hails from Shimla .
Sukhu,a sitting MLA now, was made PCC president in 2013 much against wishes of Virbhadra Singh,who had quit the post under ‘one man,one post’ formula following his elevation to the Chief Minister’s position. Past six years was not an easy time for Sukhu facing stiff resistance from Virbhadra Singh and open criticism on the way he tried to run the party. Sukhu wanted to systemically marginalise Virbhadra Singh and built-up his own clout roping in young (educated) youths into the organisation .This was not acceptable to Virbhadra Singh and his camp .
Virbhadra Singh’s persistent demand to replace Sukhu,whose continuation on the post ,will jeopardise party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls, finally worked to his favour this month. It was never too late for the change but came as boon for Virbhadra Singh . He was much happy a man than anyone else in the party .That was bound to have retaliations from Sukhu and cadre he had managed to built-up during his term as PCC president .The day, Rathore went to take the party charge ,Virbhadra Singh and Sukhu supporters were face to face .Slogans ,abuses ,hurling of chairs and exchange of blows in presence to party’s top leadership including Virbhadra Singh,AICC incharge Rajini Patil, CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri and Sukhu has raised questions on the Congress culture . one congress worker was injured and admitted to the hospital .An FIR has also been registered by the police in the case .
The moot question now remains if the party is willing to accept the generational change or old leadership will continue to hold on its base and populism .What after Virbhadra Singh ,the Congress need to find potential alternatives and let young congress leaders and second liners to stand-up on their feet as future leaders .