The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Amarinder snatches a slice of victory pie

Chandigarh, March 2: The Punjab Congress is gearing up to “celebrate” its role in the party’s victory in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls.

A high-level delegation led by state party chief H.S. Hanspal and chief minister Amarinder Singh is preparing a dossier on the manner in which the Punjab Congress “conducted” the campaign in Himachal. The leaders plan to present the dossier to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

“We had to play a major role as Punjab is Himachal’s neighbour. Making corruption the main issue was our brainchild. This initially did not find favour, but was later received favourably by the central leaders,” claimed a senior Congress leader of the state.

Last year, the Congress had run a similar campaign in Punjab against the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government. The charges levelled against then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal — of possessing property in India and abroad — have not yet been proved. Singh had charged that Badal had amassed wealth of more than Rs 3,000 crore.

In Himachal, Singh was the first Congress leader to launch a corruption offensive against outgoing chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal for allegedly buying properties outside the state. A list of Dhumal’s properties, worth Rs 41 crore, in Jalandhar and other places was even leaked to the media. Later, much heat had been generated in the wake of the raids conducted at Dhumal’s business premises in Jalandhar.

Hanspal, who was hand-picked to run the Punjab Congress by Singh, has already credited the chief minister with the victory. Singh’s image of being a crusader against corruption found acceptability among the electorate in Himachal, Hanspal said.

For the Punjab chief minister, the risk of making corruption the major poll plank against the BJP government in Himachal could have given him uncomfortable moments with the party high command.

“Amarinder went too far with corruption. He is lucky that the people of Himachal were looking for a change. Otherwise, the sex scandal involving ministers close to him could have boomeranged on the Congress. The BJP, too, made a mistake by not allowing Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to raise emotional and sentimental issues like the Godhra incident,” asserted a senior leader close to Singh-baiter Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.

While the Punjab Congress is patting itself for the Himachal victory, senior central leaders are sore at Singh’s statement at a rally calling the people of Himachal “mundus” (domestic servants). The statement is believed to have irked Sonia to such an extent that leaders managing the campaign from New Delhi were left with no option but to “direct” Singh to stay away from her rallies.

“Where was Amarinder in Kullu, Hamirpur and Nalagarh where his sister-in-law was contesting' She lost when she should have won from there. Soniaji was so peeved with Amarinder for making the statement that she ensured he should not be seen on stage with her,” a senior leader revealed on condition of anonymity.

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