Himachal CM calls on Sonia, seeks ‘free hand’ in assembly polls

With elections to the Himachal Pradesh assembly looming large and his battle of one-upmanship with the state party President unabating, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Thursday met Congress President Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi, a state Minister said.

“Virbhadra Singh met Sonia Gandhi this morning and apprised her of the current political and organisational developments in Himachal Pradesh,” the Minister told IANS.

He said issues related to the ongoing tussle between the veteran Chief Minister and state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and lack of coordination between the two also came up for discussion.

Informed sources said Virbhadra Singh categorically told Sonia Gandhi that he would not take the party into the assembly elections under Sukhu’s leadership.

The six-time Chief Minister was camping along with his cabinet colleagues in New Delhi for the last three days to seek a “free hand” in the selection of candidates and the conduct of the party’s election campaign ahead of assembly polls in December.

The last elections to the 68-member assembly were held in November 2012. The term of the current assembly ends in January 2018.

After meeting the Congress President, the Chief Minister returned to state capital Shimla.

He had met senior party functionaries, including Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel, in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The sources said Virbhadra Singh told the high command that he would neither contest the coming assembly polls nor lead the party in the present organisational set-up.

Virbhadra Singh, who has a letter of support from 27 legislators, even threatened to withdraw from the assembly elections if organisational changes were not made immediately, said a Congress leader.

“I do not wish to be belittled any more within the party as everyone seems to be going his own way,” the Chief Minister had said at a Congress Legislative Party meeting here on August 25.

“Whatever I am today is because of the party, which has given me everything. I wish to retire from politics gracefully.”

Interestingly, the same day he informally told his bete noire and two-time BJP Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal that he would not be in the electoral arena this time.

Ahead of the Chief Minister’s visit to Delhi, senior Cabinet Minister Vidya Stokes had urged the party high command to give a “free hand” to Virbhadra Singh in the coming assembly elections since “people have more faith in a strong regional leadership”.

“He is the only capable leader to win the elections for the Congress and there is no substitute to Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh,” she said in a statement here.

Citing Congress win in February 4 Punjab assembly elections, Stokes said the victory was possible because of strong leadership of state leader Amarinder Singh.

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