With the 2022 Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections a few months away, the Congress seems to be facing turmoil within its State unit amid disconnectedness among senior leaders and a section of the cadre, making it a stiff task for the party to wrest power from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
The latest blow to the party was the recent resignation of senior leader and a five-time MLA Ram Lal Thakur from the post of vice-president of Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee, citing “displeasure” over party operations in the State.
Asserting that he would continue to work for the party as the chairman of the election management committee, Mr. Thakur pointed out that the party high command should select candidates for the polls after sincere deliberation. He also pointed out that after the revamping exercise of the State unit in April this year, a ‘jumbo’ organisation of nearly 230 office-bearers was created, which did not seem to yield positive results.
A few days ago, Ashray Sharma, general secretary of the HPCC, resigned as a member of the party’s ‘Yuva Rozgar Yatra Committee’, which was set up to lead a march in each Assembly constituency to mobilise the unemployed youth in the party’s favour. Mr. Sharma, the grandson of former Telecom Minister late Pandit Sukh Ram, quit for being allegedly “sidelined”.
Last month, two Congress MLAs — Pawan Kajal and Lakhwinder Rana — quit the Congress and joined the BJP. Mr. Kajal was one of the working presidents of the Congress’ State unit. Both the leaders, the sources said, were perturbed by the party’s State leadership over the efforts being made to weaken them in their Assembly constituencies and promote other leaders against them.
Ahead of the meeting of the party’s screening committee, headed by Deepa Dasmunshi, likely to be held this week, a section of the cadre is anxious about the selection of candidates, especially for those Assembly seats where the BJP leaders, who had recently joined the Congress are in the running.
Theog, Banjar and Pachhad are three such seats where the names of former BJP leaders are in deliberation, causing displeasure among a section of party members.
‘Single candidate’ names sent
Party sources said the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) had recently decided to send ‘single candidate’ names to the screening committee, including that of the sitting MLAs, former Ministers, former state presidents and All India Congress Committee secretaries.
However, even after the decision, there were around four or five seats for which more than one name was sent to the screening committee. One of such seats is Theog from where former party president Kuldeep Singh Rathore was being seen as the ‘natural choice’ for under his leadership the party had won the 2021 by-elections to all three Assembly seats and one parliamentary seat by defeating the ruling BJP.
For this seat, the names of over four people were forwarded to the committee, which include Ms. Indu Verma, who recently left the BJP and joined the Congress.
Similarly for the Banjar Assembly segment of Chamba, the name of Khimi Ram who recently switched to the Congress from the BJP and for the Pachhad segment of Sirmaur, the name of Dyal Pyari, a BJP rebel who had contested the Pachhad Assembly by-election as an Independent candidate and later joined the Congress were sent to the screening committee.
A party leader, requesting anonymity, said that deliberation on names as possible candidates of such leaders who had recently joined the party from the BJP would only lower the morale of the cadre and the leaders, who had put years of service towards the party.
In April this year, the Congress appointed former State Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife and Lok Sabha MP Pratibha Singh as the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president, besides appointing four working presidents.
In all, almost 230 people were appointed to different posts in the party’s State unit and since then a section of party leaders was concerned over ‘tinkering’ with the then-established unit, which had delivered victory in key by-elections.