Will sympathy for late Virbhadra Singh lift Congress' chances in Himachal poll?

New Delhi, April 28: Wiped-out in the five states during recent polls, the Congress cannot hope for better days in Himachal Pradesh, slated to witness elections by the year's end.
 
Will sympathy for late Virbhadra Singh lift Congress' chances in Himachal poll?

Having run-out of leadership in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is seeing a hope in the legacy politics ahead of the polls. It precisely aims to encash the sympathy factor in favour of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

Six-time Chief Minister and a Congress stalwart indeed, Virbhadra died last year at age of 87.

On Tuesday, the Congress appointed his wife Pratibha Singh, a sitting MP as new state party president, apparently unable to find a potential second line leader to lead the Congress to the poll, against the well-entrenched BJP or counter AAP's buzz in the Shimla hills.

The Congress has also revamped the party organisational structure and appointed four working presidents for 'caste and regional balance'.

A former PCC president Sukhwinder Singh, one of Chief Ministerial post aspirants, has been made Chairman of the Congress campaign committee while Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri, another CM post claimant, will continue to hold his position.

Both Sukhwinder Singh and Mukesh Agnihotri were opposed to Pratibha Singh's candidature for the party post but their inability to decide who should take-up the party post persuaded Congress to handpick Pratibha Singh, a Rajput face.

Pratibha Singh was elected to Parliament from Mandi in November 2021 in a bypoll, which she had fought on the sympathy factor for Virbhadra Singh.

The Congress feels Virbhadra Singh's death could once again help the party to return to power in Himachal Pradesh in the 2022 elections.

The BJP had won all four Lok Sabha seats with a record margin in 2019 polls. It had also retained two seats - Dharamshala and Rajgarh in the Assembly bypolls.

But, when Pratibha Singh got elected in the bypoll, along with Congress candidates in three other assembly constituencies, the opposition saw it as a morale booster for the party cadres.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur admits that by poll defeat was a big lesson for the party though it was primarily due to sympathy factor for Virbhadra Singh, who was a stalwart and had a larger-than-life image in the state.

"The Mandi bypoll or other assembly seats won by the Congress was neither a result of anti-incumbency nor a vote against governance. Ever Since then, the BJP has done quite a lot homework and congress should not think same sympathy card will work in the state assembly poll," Jai Ram Thakur told India Initiative.

The BJP victory in the four states is a signal that the party will break the myth about the ruling party not returning to power again on the basis of the state government's performance, he says.

The appointment of Pratibha Singh may or may not work as well as it could have, if Virbhadra Singh was alive. Nevertheless, it has strengthened a powerful Congress camp, which always stood with Virbhadra Singh. He was undoubtedly a mass leader yet he could never repeat two successive Congress governments.

Virbhadra not only had fought BJP in Himachal Pradesh to stay in politics for 55 years, he also took cudgels against his own party high command to become Chief Minister in 1993 against party's choice for former union minister Sukh Ram. Later in 2003, he fought back against veteran party leader Vidya Stokes.

Pratibha Singh is no match her husband in popularity or leadership qualities. Her appointment will also not be going to end factionalism in the Congress, rather could aggravate infighting.

Appointment of four working presidents - first time in Himachal Pradesh history as a small state , are unlikely to be on the same page.

The BJP charge against the Congress promoting dynasty politics, and believing in 'legacy raj' will be a potent weapon in the hands of the saffron party.

The family - Pratibha Singh and MLA son Vikramaditya Singh, also have pending CBI and ED cases against them.

"The Congress is gradually wiping-out from the country and also Himachal Pradesh. We are going to form the government as the Congress neither has leadership nor issues for the next election," Jai Ram Thakur claimed.

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