Former Himachal CM wants greater say in candidate selection

The Congress is working overtime to mollify senior leader and former Union Minister Virbhadra Singh who, earlier in the week, offered to resign from three party committees constituted ahead of the Assembly elections due at the end of the year in Himachal Pradesh. On Saturday morning, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who heads the screening committee for the Himachal polls, called him, following which Mr. Singh met her and he was reportedly assured that his opinion would be sought while selecting candidates.

On Friday, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh was asked to meet the former Chief Minister to assure him that his grievances would be addressed. Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel also met him late on Friday evening to request him not to press his resignation as his demands would be given a sympathetic hearing — this was the second meeting the two had in two days.

A senior functionary told The Hindu that short of naming him as the chief ministerial candidate, Mr. Virbhadra Singh — even though he has held the post five times — would be placated as the Congress could not afford to have him in a rebellious mood. He said the party was aware that only Mr. Singh’s protégés were capable of winning at least one-third of the seats. It is learnt that Mr. Singh, now MP from Mandi, is keen on contesting an Assembly seat.

Indeed, it is likely that Ms. Gandhi — to whom the former Chief Minister shot off a letter on Thursday, offering to step down from the campaign committee, which he heads, and from membership of the drafting and election strategy panels, unhappy at being excluded from the screening committee — will meet him next week, party sources said. In his letter, Mr. Singh had complained that there was a “systematic approach to oust him” from State politics and that “those who matter in the State Congress are being sidelined.” He had even threatened to leave the party amid speculation that he may, along with some BJP rebels, form a third party in Himachal.

Mr. Singh’s two chief demands centre round having a greater say in the selection of candidates for the polls and the appointment of a working president — of his choice — in the State unit to neutralise PCC chief Kaul Singh, who, he feels, is ineffective.