Unable to find a viable face in the party in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress once again has fallen back on 86-year-old Virbhadra Singh.
The six-time chief minister, who had announced his retirement from electoral politics in 2017 after losing power to the BJP, was invited to first-ever public show –-- a “Jan Akrosh rally” in Shimla by the party on Wednesday. The rally was a damp squib as most workers skipped it, despite the rally being planned in the state capital.
The message from the dais, which mostly included sitting MLAs, former ministers and PCC officer-bearers, was loud and clear: It’s Virbhadra Singh, who despite his age and health, remains the party's sole hope to regain power.
Congress minder for Himachal Pradesh Rajeev Shukla was not the only one endorsing Virbhadra Singh as “Sher-e-Himachal. A clutch of Congress leaders, including PCC president Kuldeep Rathore and Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri said the party will be led by Virbhadra Singh to the polls to form the next government. Shukla said the rally will mark the beginning of the Congress's drive to power in Himachal Pradesh.
Some prominent leaders such as Vilove Thakur, Sukhwinder Sukhu, Kuldeep Kumar --- all former PCC presidents and Asha Kumari, a six-time MLA from Dalhousie, did not get an opportunity to speak.
Thus, instead of projecting a show of strength or expressing growing public anger against the ruling BJP on rising fuel prices, farmers issues, unemployment and anti-people policies, the event was marked by praises for Virbhadra Singh, whom they projected as the one to lead the Congress to power in the 2022 Assembly elections. There were also references as how the public and youths had suffered due to the Covid lockdown and there is need to bring the Congress back to power in the interest of the state's development.
Virbhadra Singh spoke briefly to accept the endorsements.
“I don't speak much and nor deliver any speeches anymore. I'm here only to convey my feelings,” he spoke in a feeble voice as Rathore and Agnihotri stood next to him to prompt a few words and sentences.
Yet, he underlined the need for unity, which is important if the Congress has to fight back to power in Himachal Pradesh .
Agnihotri, who is also leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, drew quite a parallel as how the BJP has shown the doors to Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. He sounded an alert to Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to be vigilant as he could be next in line.
In focus at the rally was a big hoarding wherein one corner had pictures of the Gandhi family --- Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the other corner was occupied by that of Virbhadra Singh, PCC president Kuldeep Rathore, CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri and conspicuously Anand Sharma, one of the G-23 leaders.
Anand Sharma is a Rajya Sabha member from Himachal Pradesh and currently deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha.
Priyanka lands in Shimla
Meanwhile, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra arrived in Shimla and drove straight to her private bungalow at Chharabra,13km from the town.
She did not choose to meet any Congress leader though sources said Rajeev Shukla did pay her a visit later after the rally.