The rift is out in the open in Congress once again as the election year comes closer in Himachal Pradesh. The claims of coordination between Virbhadra government and the Congress party led by Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu have seemingly fallen apart. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who praised Sukhu one day and retraced his stand the very next day last week, has conveyed it with much clarity.
Singh expressed his concern over the appointments of Secretaries done by Sukhu one after another without consulting anyone, including the Block Congress or ministers concerned. The Chief Minister also voiced his opposition to Sukhu’s decision to carve out more organisational districts of Congress in state. More than that, it is learnt, that all is not well between the party and the government, when it comes to the say in each other’s affairs. Singh’s comment that PCC’s programme ‘Modi Key Bol Jumlon key Dhol’ was a good initiative, but the PCC should work more on ground, has summed it further.
In fact, Sukhu’s elevation as party chief in 2012 (after he lost assembly poll) in Himachal was not a pleasant development for the dominant Virbhadra camp. Sukhu, who has been a close confidante of IPH minister, Vidya Stokes, all through, did not have good ties with Singh. Even though Stokes joined back Singh’s faction before the last assembly polls, it is not the same with Sukhu. While Singh’s command as Chief Minister cannot be challenged despite attempts by detractors, Sukhu is trying to establish a similar aura in the party. Since he has a good organisational base, having led the National Students Union of India (NSUI) and then Youth Congress, he does have the leadership capacity to handle party affairs.
And he has proved it. Sukhu has not only tried to involve the seniors and juniors in the party affairs as it looks to the cadres, he has also geared up the party machinery—by involving the Congress units in the block, the districts and the state. His repeated calls for the meetings in Shimla and in the field to stay connected with office bearers has made a difference, atleast when it comes to energizing the party workers. “It is a question of involvement of party men at all levels. It has helped,” shared Chief Spokesperson of Congress and Sukhu’s confidante, Naresh Chauhan. He said that all the decisions of PCC are taken in consultation with the high command.”
Sukhu has travelled to the entire state, right uptill remotest Dodra Kwar in Shimla, as PCC Chief. And his programme ‘Modi Key Bol, Jumlon key Dhol’ sought to involve majority senior leaders. He made even the ministers come to the party office and redress the grievances of workers.
While his effort to build linkages with party ranks by appointments of a big army of Secretaries has won criticism from top levels in the state, there are others who justify it within the party.
“Nothing is lost, if we give some say or power to the party men. They will only work harder for the party in the run up to polls,” they say. The party leaders, closer to Sukhu, rather counter-allege.
“What about the army of Chairmen and Vice Chairmen in the government? Most of the leaders given power and lavish living (at the cost of public exchequer) are the ones, who were defeated in polls. If they can be accommodated, then why not the ordinary party folks?” they grumble. There general opinion is that earlier, whenever Virbhadra Singh was Chief Minister, the party organisation used to be very dull, with Singh a towering leader having the capacity to dominate the scene single handedly. However, Sukhu has tried to give the organisation an independent look, even with Singh as Chief Minister.
And there lies the problem especially as the polls near. The Congress infighting would be more visible as the party organisation would become more important in the run up to polls in 2017, when it is about ticket distribution. Already there are efforts to destabilise Sukhu with negative feedback to party high command, so that a person from the Chief Minister’s camp becomes a PCC Chief ahead of assembly polls. The talk of the Congress circles is that whether Sukhu would be able to sustain the pressure exerted by rivals (to grab the coveted party seat) before polls? The tug of war has already started as many youngsters in the party also eye the top party post.