The three-day-long suspense in Himachal Pradesh over the selection of the new Chief Minister continued on Saturday, despite the newly elected MLAs unanimously passing a resolution on Friday night authorizing the Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge to decide on who will be the chief minister.
The central observers of the party, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda met the Governor on Friday and submitted a list of 40 newly elected Congress MLAs, while seeking time to elect a leader and stake claim to form a government.
Supporters of rival factions shouted slogans outside the state Congress office in Shimla on Friday and Saturday, as there was hectic lobbying for the plum post of chief minister. State Congress chief Pratibha Singh, widow of former CM Late Virbhadra Singh and one of the main contenders for CM post, publicly asserted her husband's legacy saying the party has returned to power because of his popularity.
Pratibha Singh said, "When I was appointed state party chief, Sonia Ji had asked me to ensure our party's victory. I visited all the 68 constituencies and our tally of 40 seats is the outcome of the hard work that we put in."
Sources said, Pratibha Singh's name is not among the names of three probables for the chief minister post given to the observers. The three names are - Congress campaign committee chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri and Rajinder Rana. Sources said, since Pratibha Singh is not an MLA (she is an MP from Mandi), byelections will have to be held if she is chosen as chief minister. To assuage her feelings, her son Vikramaditya Singh may be given a plum post in the new government. The meeting of new MLAs had to be postponed twice on Friday, and late in the evening, a resolution was adopted authorizing the party president to select the chief minister.
Till Thursday night, when the final results came in, Congress leaders were fearing whether BJP would poach their MLAs, but by Friday evening, the leadership has started apprehending whether its own leaders may split the state unit. Congress workers shouted slogans when the two main observers, Baghel and Hudda landed at Shimla helipad.
Supporters of Pratibha Singh and her son Vikramaditya Singh surrounded the car in which the observers were travelling, and shouted slogans. There was sloganeering by Pratibha Singh's supporters even when Bhupesh Baghel reached his hotel.
After Round 1 of power display, Round 2 began when the MLAs started assembling at the state party office for the meeting. Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu's supporters hoisted him on their shoulders and brought him to the party office. Soon afterwards, Vikramaditya Singh was brought by his supporters sitting on their shoulders.
The supporters were demanding, either mother or son from Virbhadra Singh's family be made the chief minister, because, according to them, the election was fought in the name of the late chief minister. The sloganeering continued at the party office, even after the MLAs passed a resolution authorizing the party chief to select the CM.
As the suspense continued, Pratibha Singh hardened her stance by saying that the party leadership "cannot ignore the legacy" of late Virbhadra Singh. It will not be justified if the elections are fought in his name and the post of chief minister be given to a person outside the family, she said. Pratibha Singh is even ready to accept if the post of CM is given to her son, who has won from Shimla Rural seat. On his part, Vikramaditya Singh only said, "I hope the high command will take a right decision."
There is no doubt that Pratibha Singh toiled hard for her party's victory. She snatched the Mandi Lok Sabha seat from BJP in the byelection last year. Five months later, Sonia Gandhi as party chief appointed her the state president. The elections were fought under her leadership and the party got majority. For the Congress high command, it will not be easy to set aside her demand.
Bhupesh Baghel said on Friday that the party high command will not make anybody angry, and everybody will be co-opted. But when Baghel reached Shimla city, he found that the matter was not so easy as he thought. Campaign Committee chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu told the observers that it was the party organisation that fought the elections, and that he commanded the support of more MLAs compared to Pratibha Singh.
The drama that is unfolding in Shimla is not new for Congress party. We saw a similar drama in Karnataka, and later in Rajasthan. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's supporter MLAs practically forced the high command observers to return to Delhi empty-handed. The CLP meeting could not take place in Jaipur.
A similar situation arose in Shimla on Friday, but it goes to the credit of Bhupesh Baghel and Bhupinder Hooda that they managed to persuade the newly elected MLAs to pass a unanimous resolution authorizing the party high command.
It has been a longstanding tradition in Congress for legislators to pass resolution authorizing the high command to decide about chief minister, and the decision used to be taken in Delhi. The MLAs used to accept the high command's diktat from Delhi. But this was during the days of Gandhi-Nehru family which ruled the party with an iron hand. At that time, the "high command" was popular and the Gandhi-Nehru family used to assert its leadership.
Times have now changed. Leaders at the local level put in their toil to ensure victory, and at the time of choosing the chief minister, they want to select their leader. This is what happened in Shimla on Friday. Rahul Gandhi did not go to Himachal Pradesh for campaigning. He congratulated his party workers on Twitter, and yet he wants that he should be given the power to select the chief minister.
Times have changed, but the style of working of Gandhi-Nehru family has not altered. Rahul Gandhi reached Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan to celebrate her mother's birthday, along with Priyanka and Robert Vadra.
Hopefully, the family will decide who will become the new CM, and the crisis in HP will be over, but this is not a permanent solution. Rahul Gandhi has this habit of vacationing frequently, but the Congress party is facing a big challenge from Narendra Modi, who never takes leave to unwind himself. He takes no time either in selecting a CM, or firing a CM.
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