An intense tussle for the post of Himachal Pradesh chief minister prevented a consensus at the Congress Legislature Party meeting in Shimla on Friday night, with the MLAs leaving it to the high command to take the decision.
Speculation about three candidates — state unit chief Pratibha Singh, campaign committee chairman Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and outgoing leader of the Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri — dominated the political discourse through the day.
At a meeting that started at 8pm instead of the scheduled 3pm, the Congress Legislature Party passed a one-line resolution authorising party president Mallikarjun Kharge to announce the name of the chief minister.
Congress central observers had in the afternoon met the governor and staked claim to form the government.
Earlier in the day, supporters of late veteran Virbhadra Singh loudly demonstrated their support for his widow Pratibha to head the government.
Pratibha, Lok Sabha member from Mandi apart from being the state unit chief, said on camera that the election had been fought over Virbhadra’s legacy and his family could not be ignored.
Central observers Bhupesh Baghel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Rajeev Shukla faced agitated crowds of supporters who vociferously demanded Pratibha’s elevation as chief minister.
The Congress has reaffirmed its resolve to fulfill all the promises made to the people of Himachal Pradesh, including the old pension scheme.
Asked whether the Congress was now going against economic reforms by opting for the old pension scheme, party communications chief Jairam Ramesh said: “It is a stated pledge; we will implement the old pension scheme.”
He added: “What is socially desirable overtakes what is financially desirable. There were questions about the MGNREGA and the Food Security Act also.”
Ramesh continued: “The Congress party has taken a considered view. We promised to implement the old pension scheme in Gujarat as well. This is a running demand across the country. In Maharashtra, in every district the Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through, the old pension scheme was demanded.”
The Congress has also promised cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 and a sum of Rs 1,500 for every woman every month.
These promises entail a huge financial burden but Ramesh said the finances would be managed and relocated to fulfil these pledges.
Rahul Gandhi had posted a tweet on Thursday assuring the people of Himachal that all the promises would be fulfilled at the earliest.
On Gujarat, Ramesh told a news conference in Delhi: “The results are extremely disappointing for us. The deficiencies in the state leadership will have to be addressed. We will raise a new leadership and claw back our support base.
“But it was not a Congress-BJP fight. We were up against an informal alliance of the BJP, AAP, AIMIM, state and central agencies. The model code of conduct was violated but our complaints were not accepted by the Election Commission.”
Ramesh said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trying to play up the Gujarat victory without acknowledging his failure in Himachal.
“Our victory in Himachal is very significant as it came against the same BJP’s dominance and the Prime Minister’s intense campaigning. The Himachal election was delinked from Gujarat to ensure Modi campaigned actively in Himachal. BJP president J.P. Nadda campaigned in every district,” Ramesh said.
“A desperate Prime Minister is trying to spin the Gujarat victory beyond what it deserves. The fact is that the BJP has lost everywhere else. Modi’s drumbeaters also need a sense of perspective on Gujarat.
“In 1980, the Congress won 141 and in 1985, 149 of the 182 seats. Let this not be forgotten. Before projecting the BJP victory as unprecedented, we should have a sense of history.”