Considering the family legacy and contribution, Congress Himachal Pradesh unit chief Pratibha Singh, who is banking largely on her legislator son Vikramaditya Singh for statewide campaigning, had sought votes in the assembly polls on development carried out by her husband during his six terms as the Chief Minister.
Sensing party heading to absolute majority in the state, Pratibha Singh, who has not contested the assembly polls, has been projected as the prospective Chief Minister.
Coming out openly after retaining his Shimla (Rural) seat for the second consecutive term, Vikramaditya Singh said, “We will form a government with a full majority… She (Pratibha Singh) is one of the contenders for the CM post.”
Pratibha Singh, who won the Mandi seat in the 2021 Lok Sabha bypoll, missed no opportunity to remind the electorate that the victory in assembly election “will be a tribute to him (Virbhadra Singh)”.
Political experts told IANS that the assembly election was a battle between the past performance of Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh and his legacy and BJP’s Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s credibility.
Mincing no words, Pratibha Singh told the media after sensing party’s straight win that the family of Virbhadra Singh has played an important role in this election and considering the contribution of Virbhadra Singh for the state, then AICC president Sonia Gandhi appointed her the state president.
Well ahead of the assembly polls, the Congress had appointed its three-time MP Pratibha Singh as the state unit president.
Unlike her husband who had a direct connection even at the grassroots, Pratibha Singh had spearheaded the poll campaign on the legacy of Virbhadra Singh. She didn’t miss an opportunity to remind to vote for development and work initiated by her late husband.
Pratibha Singh spearheaded the campaign by banking on the party’s promise to bring back the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) that will benefit 225,000 employees, a crucial vote bank.
Reposing faith in the party legislators, Pratibha Singh told the media, “People have given us the mandate. We can meet (our MLAs) anywhere, including Chandigarh or in the state. Those who have won will be with us and we will form the government.”
Party insiders admitted to IANS that Pratibha Singh played a crucial role in reuniting the “divided” Congress well ahead of the polls to speak with one voice over key issues to put the government in the dock over corruption, deteriorating law and order situation, rising debt, an education scam of selling more than 45,000 fake degrees and the constable recruitment question paper leak that was sold for Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8 lakh.
Besides restoring the old pension scheme, the main opposition Congress had promised in a manifesto to fill one lakh jobs in the first Cabinet meeting, besides 300 units of free electricity.
Pratibha Singh, who hails from the Keonthal royal family, got a setback in the run-up to the polls when her close confidante and three-time legislator Harsh Mahajan, who for over a decade played a crucial role in strengthening the partya¿s organisation at the grassroots under Virbhadra Singh’s helm, joined the BJP.
Before Mahajan, the other prominent leaders who defected were two sitting legislators — Lakhwinder Rana and Pawan Kajal, citing “displeasure” over her working.
Interestingly, both Mahajan and Kajal were appointed the state working presidents, when Pratibha Singh was appointed the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president.
The other prospective candidates in the race for the chief ministerial post are Mukesh Agnihotri, 60, and Sukhvinder Sukhu, 58, who won from Haroli and Nadaun seats respectively.
Himachal Pradesh has not returned any incumbent government to power in the last nearly four decades.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)