ONE fact in the Himachal Congress is amply clear: the fissures in the party are firm and final to stay. Another fact irrefutable is that there is only one leader in Congress who has a firm base in Congress and numerous leaders, including present and any MLAs who may be elected in the next election, are too willing to swim and sink with him.
To put pressure on the Congress high command Virbhadra Singh had resigned from three important committees, including the campaign committee of which he had been made the chairman and camped in Delhi for a number of days demanding that he be projected the chief ministerial candidate with a kitty of 40-30 seats in a 68-member State assembly to nominees of his choice. In view of a court having ordered framing of corruption charges against Virbhadra and wife, Congress high command doesn’t wish to take chances with a tainted leader. Virbhadra returned to Shimla on July 30 empty handed. Although the high command made Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, Digvijay Singh and Ahmed Patel to cool Virbhadra tempers with various proposals, but none was willing to assure him on his two main demands. The high command has agreed to make him contest a seat in assembly which keeps his hope to stake his claim to be Chief Minister in case the party is voted into power. On his part, Virbhadra made it clear he would go by any assurance by no other a person than Congress supremo . Sonia Gandhi. Before returning to Delhi, he wanted an audience with Gandhi but failed.
Virbhadra is likely to announce his future course of action in a few days. He has indicated that if his demands were not met he would either form a regional party or join the Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). In any case that would be a loss irreparable to Congress.
Whether he forms a regional party or joins NCP, he has the political base to make between 12-15 nominees to the assembly. That would be a loss very damaging and may relegate the main opposition to a third position.
If the party concedes his demand for 40-30 seats that would leave the remaining factions with just 28-38 persons to satisfy their supporters. The anti-Virbhadra camp comprises state president Kaul Singh Thakur, Leader of Congress Legislature Party Vidya Stokes and former transport minister G.S. Bali. Stokes enjoys the confidence of Gandhi. They may win their own personal seats, but would be left hardly with any seats to win for their supporters as Virbhadra is laying claim to most of the winnable seats for his faction.
The present BJP Chief Minister Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal has, to an extent, bridged the gap between the old areas and the new ones which merged with Himachal following trifurcation of then Punjab in 1966. During the last 46 years when Congress ruled the State for 31 years, it has failed to prop up a CM from the new areas which constitute a little more than the present strength of Himachal assembly.
Even otherwise, in the present political and electoral atmosphere in the State, as per the present indications, even a united Congress is not likely to pose a threat greater than it could last time when Virbhadra Singh himself was the chief minister. Therefore, whether Congress finally emerges as a united or divided house in the State assembly elections due in another four months, it may not pose a challenge much greater than the one last time. BJP looks sitting pretty presenting a united face. It is likely, like neighbouring Punjab, to break the myth since 1985 that in every election it is always Congress once and BJP in the other election.