regular-article-logo Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Rahul Gandhi brings warmth to Shimla stage

Pratibha Singh, who has been denied the chief minister’s seat, gets a hug from Rahul at the oath-taking ceremony, calming nerves of supporters of the erstwhile royal family

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 12.12.22, 03:01 AM
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with his mother Sansaro Devi at his swearing-in on Sunday.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu with his mother Sansaro Devi at his swearing-in on Sunday. PTI

Pratibha Singh, who has been denied the chief minister’s seat, received the warmest hug from Rahul Gandhi at the oath-taking ceremony in Shimla on Sunday, triggering loud cheers from her supporters who had been deeply disturbed by the choice of Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu for the top post.

Rahul’s gesture didn’t only reassure the family of Virbhadra Singh that their importance would not diminish in the Congress and in Himachal Pradesh, it also underlined his central role as the final arbiter in political and personal rivalries within the party.


Rahul pacified the agitated supporters of the erstwhile royal family by paying tribute to Virbhadra Singh whose portrait was placed on the dais.

During the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka, Rahul is said to have worked hard to resolve the differences between D.K. Shivakumar and P.C. Siddaramaiah, and the two leaders have since been working together with a significant degree of understanding.

In Madhya Pradesh, he got Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, whose strained personal relations have affected the party’s prospects ahead of the Assembly polls next year, to embrace each other in public.

“Gale miliye,” Rahul was heard saying on the dais at the last public meeting before the Yatra entered Rajasthan.

Rahul Gandhi hugs PratibhaSingh at the swearing-in ceremony.

Rahul Gandhi hugs PratibhaSingh at the swearing-in ceremony. PTI

In Rajasthan, the Rahul effect is visible in the language of chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his bête-noire Sachin Pilot. While Pilot is insisting that “all of us have to work together to fight the BJP”, Gehlot has regretted the use of the word“gaddar”, saying such mishaps happen in politics but time heals everything.

Both Gehlot and Sachin were on the stage in Shimla on Sunday. Rahul flew into Shimla after completing the morning leg of the Yatra in Rajasthan’sBundi district on Sunday and returned in the afternoon to resume the walk.

He had not even changed and was wearing the same T-shirt in the hill station that he had been wearing on the dusty lanes of Bundi.

Amid people wrapped in shawls and overcoats at the ceremony, Rahul alone stood without any woollens. But he did not lack in warmth.

Before taking oath as chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder had brought his mother to the dais to introduce her to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi and party president Mallikarjun Kharge.

After all the introductions were done, he was climbing down the dais with his mother when Rahul called out from behind: “Please ask her to sit here with us.”

So, Sansaro Devi, whose husband was a bus driver, was seated beside Pratibha Singh, addressed in Himachal as “Rani Sahiba” because she is a former royal, and Priyanka.

Rahul also appeared to have asked Sukhu about his family, who were then brought to the dais and seated there.

While his wife and two daughters greeted Kharge, Rahul and Priyanka, they touched Pratibha’s feet, betraying no sign of the antagonism that has defined Sukhu’s politics vis-a-vis Virbhadra’s family.

Sukhu had called on Pratibha on Saturday night after being chosen as chief minister.

The appointment of Virbhadra loyalist Mukesh Agnihotri as deputy chief minister had already assuaged the family’s hurt feelings.

That Rahul’s moral authority in the party has soared after the Bharat Jodo Yatra is evident from the reactions ofhis critics.

While G20 member Manish Tewari joined the Yatra for a day, one of the architects of the rebellious group, Anand Sharma, was seen walking up to Rahul on the dais on Sunday for a brief chat.

Sharma also hailed the decision to pick Sukhu over the former royals to lead the government in his home state Himachal, a decision influenced by Rahul’s personal choice.

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