Six times Himachal Chief Minister and tallest Congress leader with strong mass base, Virbhadra Singh, despite being in an advancing age, has once again proved his mettle in the Congress politics of Himachal Pradesh with the removal of Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee ( HPCC) chief Sukhvinder Singh ‘ Sukhu’.
Virbhadra Singh, who had raised cudgel against Sukhu, had been holding Sukhu responsible for the defeat of the Congress during the last Assembly election in 2018. His main argument was Sukhu lacks mass base being a nominated HPCC chief and gunning him for allegedly nominating “non-entities” as district and block level Congress office bearers, besides fielding weak candidates during the Assembly election, terming these as the main reason for defeat of the Congress.
In his “favourite” style he had pulled all strings to prove his point with the Congress High Command and used his proven and effective political weapon of grass root level campaign to build pressure.
On the strength of his mass base and popularity in the state the veteran leader had always prevailed on the Congress High Command during his long political career spanning over three and half decades in Himachal politics and always won against his adversaries . He had always been able to install HPCC president of his choice with a few exceptions.
In the past, to push forward his claim for Chief Minister-ship he always nailed down his opponents on every occasion. After the 1993 Assembly election, his bête-noire Sukh Ram had put him stiff challenge with the blessings of then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. The Congress observer sent by the AICC for electing the Congress legislature party leader, Late Beant Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, had a letter from the AICC favouring Sukh Ram as leader but Virbhadra Singh with the support of majority Congress MLA’s forced the Congress High Command to change its decision and nominate him the Chief Minister.
In the 1998 Assembly election, in a hung Assembly when support of four MLAs of Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) formed by Sukh Ram after splitting from the Congress had became crucial for forming the Congress government in the state, he forced the Central leadership not to bow to the demand of Sukh Ram who had put a condition to replace Virbhadra Singh and elect a new leader as next CM for offering support of his MLAs. The Congress sat in the opposition and Sukh Ram supported BJP for forming the first BJP- HVC alliance government in the state.
Even during the 2012 Assembly election, when Virbhadra Singh had resigned as Union Cabinet Minister from the UPA II government, many of his adversaries were confident of his replacement in the state politics on the rumours of his dumping by the Congress president Sonia Gandhi after a case of alleged money laundering surfaced against him. They were also confident that aging Virbhadra Singh may not find favour with the Congress High Command.
Virbhadra Singh was able to convince the Congress leadership once again and the AICC reposed its faith in him for bringing the Congress back to power in the state. Proving all his contenders wrong , Sonia Gandhi replaced then HPCC president Kaul Singh Thakur by Virbhadra Singh just before the Assembly election and he also went on to become the next Chief Minister.
After appointment of Sukhu as HPCC president, Virbhadra Singh had been demanding his replacement for the last five years. In perceptible alleged defiance of the Congress High Command to prove his point for replacement of Sukhu, Virbhadra Singh did not attend many meetings of the Congress in-charge of Himachal affairs, Rajni Patil in the state in preparation of the parliament polls.
Though, the Congress High Command has chosen Kuldeep Singh Rathor as a new HPCC president, who is considered a right hand man of Anand Sharma, Congress Working Committee member, hailing from Himachal, but the Congress leadership has definitely tried assuaging the feelings of Virbhadra Singh to use his stature and mass base in the coming election. Virbhadra Singh has also once again proved his dexterity in politics with replacement of Sukhu.