NEW DELHI: Ahead of assembly elections, there is trouble for the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, one of the few states it still rules, with 27 of its 36 legislators backing 83-year-old Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in a feud with the party’s state chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu. The MLAs want Congress president Sonia Gandhi to intervene after Virbhadra Singh said he will not contest the assembly elections to be held later this year. They say they too will not contest elections if their leader does not. Camp Virbhadra is counting on the party’s track record; it had given in to such pressure by Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab ahead of this year’s state elections.
10 points on the Congress’ latest crisis
1.Virbhadra Singh is in Delhi for a court case and has sought to meet Sonia Gandhi as he attempts to regain a free hand in party affairs in his state ahead of the elections. An appointment has not been given yet and sources said is unlikely.
2.The six-time Chief Minister wrote to Mrs Gandhi last week complaining against Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. He has said unless Mr Sukhu is removed as state party chief, he will not contest or participate in the elections. Virbhadra Singh wants senior party leader Asha Kumari to be the state Congress chief.
3.The Congress’ central leadership is said to be divided. A section of top leaders want Mr Sukhu to continue in his post. A decision is expected only after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is back from his visit to Norway, but sources said, he is unlikely to favour giving in to pressure from the Chief Minister.
4.Virbhadra Singh is the Congress’ most senior leader in the state, but does not command the kind of influence he once did, with the party mentoring a younger set of leaders like Mr Sukhu in the last few years.
5.Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, 52, has earlier described the strife within the Congress as a “generational fight” in the hill state. His appointment after the 2012 elections was bitterly opposed by Virbhadra Singh and his camp.
6.Team Virbhadra hopes for a repeat of Punjab, where now Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had won a pitched battle against Partap Singh Bajwa, handpicked by Rahul Gandhi as state Congress chief. Mr Bajwa stepped down after Amarinder Singh all but threatened to quit the party if he was not removed. Captain took over and later led the party to victory in the elections.
7.In assembly elections five years ago, Virbhadra Singh had led the Congress to victory, wresting the state back from the BJP despite its aggressive campaign against him over the corruption cases that have piled up against him.
8.Then too Virbhadra Singh had used pressure tactics to get the party to name him both state party chief and presumptive Chief Minister ahead of elections.
9.But last time he faced a BJP that was battling an anti-incumbency sentiment; this time the party has pulled out all stops in its preps for the elections, confident of a comeback after big wins in neighboring Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
10.The elections in the state will be held later this year. In 2012, the Congress had won the 36 of the 68 seats in the Himachal Pradesh assembly. The BJP had won 26.