Himachal CM meets Sonia, seeks free hand in assembly polls

Amid a running feud with state party President, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Thursday met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and sought a “free hand” in order to fight the assembly elections, party sources said.

Virbhadra Singh also proposed the names of Prakash Chaudhary and Sudhir Sharma, both ministers in Himachal Pradesh, for the state Congress chief’s post and demanded that the next assembly elections be fought under his leadership, said a party source.

“Virbhadra Singh apprised Soniaji of the political and organisational developments in Himachal Pradesh,” the minister told IANS.

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

Informed sources said the Chief Minister categorically told Gandhi that he would not take the party to 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 to oversee the party’s election campaign. The assembly polls are due in December.

The last election to the 68-member assembly was held in November 2012.

After meeting Gandhi, the Chief Minister returned to state capital Shimla. He also met senior party functionaries, including Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel, in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Informed sources said Virbhadra Singh told the party leadership 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 want to be belittled any more within the party as everyone seems to be going his own way,” the Chief Minister told a Congress Legislative Party meeting here on August 25.

Ahead of his visit to Delhi, senior Cabinet Minister Vidya Stokes had urged the party 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 elections for the Congress and there is no substitute to Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh,” she said in a statement here.

Citing the Congress win in Punjab, Stokes said it was possible because of strong leadership of state leader Amarinder Singh.

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