Shimla, April 27
Forging unity in the faction-ridden Congress leadership will an uphill task as Pratibha Singh (66) begins a new innings as new state Congress president. However, it is the legacy of her husband and six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, which she hopes to fall back upon to take up the challenge.
The party high command chose to throw its weight behind Pratibha Singh, who is facing corruption charges, realizing that she alone can evoke sympathy in the name of “Raja”, the tallest leader the party has had. The fact that the high command wanted to give charge to a leader who would not contest the Assembly elections tilted the scales in her favour.
Following the announcement of her appointment, Pratibha left for Sarahan, where she offered prayers at the Bhimakali temple today. “Holly Lodge”, the residence of Virbhadra, seems headed to become the centrestage of Congress politics as party MLAs and leaders converged there to congratulate her as slogans of ‘Rajmata Pratibha Singh Zindabad’ rent the air.
Her victory in the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll showed that Virbhadra’s name still evokes sympathy among voters.
Pratibha’s appointment has come at a time when it was a foregone conclusion that CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri would be made party chief. Former Congress president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu will be heading the election campaign committee, a powerful position. Sukhu has, in the past, demonstrated the support of at least 12 MLAs, which has helped him earn the key appointment.
However, it remains to be seen if Sukhu, who was one of the biggest detractors of Virbhadra, will work in close coordination with Pratibha. Several Congress leaders, including Sukhu, Agnihotri and Pratibha herself, are contenders for the CM’s post, if the Congress is voted to power in the elections. The high command has tried to balance caste and regional factors while making the appointments.
Though not a novice to politics, Pratibha does not have the stature her husband enjoyed and in his absence she faces a major challenge to take everyone along. “I am way too junior to most of the senior leaders and it is with their support that the Congress will unitedly take on the BJP to ensure return of Congress in Himachal,” she says.
Kuldeep Rathore appointed party spokesman
- The residence of Virbhadra Singh, Holly Lodge, is likely to become the centrestage of Congress politics, as party MLAs and leaders converged there to congratulate Pratibha Singh with slogans of ‘Rajmata Pratibha Singh Zindabad’.
- Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday appointed Kuldeep Rathore as party spokesperson. KC Venugopal, AICC general secretar, conveyed the order.