Virbhadra Singh has been on the campaign trail for one poll after another since December 2012. He quit the Mandi Lok Sabha seat to contest for the assembly and become chief minister, followed by the bypoll in 2013, which his wife Pratibha Singh won. And the 80-year-old campaigns on, and not just for Mandi where his wife is recontesting.
Over the past month-and-a-half, he has touched almost every corner of the state, travelling by road and often trekking to areas where vehicles cannot reach. He addresses eight to 10 rallies a day and dozens of smaller gatherings.
“I hit the road the day after elections were announced. Since then, I have not returned home. My wife too is in her constituency. My son Vikramaditya Singh, state Youth Congress president, is in Hamirpur. I wonder why candidates don’t stay in their areas. They return home and start again the next day,” he says.
In Mandi Saturday, after a three-day campaign in Kangra, he takes a two-and-a-half hour drive through mountains and forest valleys to reach Jhanjeli for a rally.
This is one of Mandi’s most backward areas and considered a Congress bastion. BJP leader Jairam Thakur, four-time MLA and former minister, contested against Pratibha Singh in the bypoll. He lost by around 5,000 votes, not a huge margin. This time, she faces BJP first-timer Ram Swaroop Sharma.
Virbhadra had announced a degree college, revamping of schools, funds for roads and irrigation and water supply projects in Mandi. He recalls how as young MP from Mandi in the 1970s and ’80s, he travelled on foot, in snow and rain. There were no roads then. He built them on becoming chief minister.
“These days, we hear a lot of propaganda about (Narendra ) Modi. It’s all media hype. Do not get carried away. There is no Modi factor… this is only brand marketing of Modi as a product like shampoo, hair oil and soap. Modi will not be prime minister, he cannot become Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had secular credentials and wider acceptability. Yeh Modi, Modi, Modi kahan se aa gaya,” he says.
“Look what Prem Kumar Dhumal is saying. He is saying that on May 16, when Lok Sabha results come, the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh will be dismissed. We (Congress government) still have four years to go. Dhumal sahib, yeh Mungerilal se sapne mat dekho (stop daydreaming),” he says. Virbhadra targets even the Election Commission for not seeking accounts from Modi on his high-profile campaign.