HAVING BEEN at the centre of several political storms and weathered them, this time it is a lonely political battle for former Congress minister Major Vijai Singh Mankotia (retd) and a bête-noire of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in the upcoming Assembly election. Contesting as an Independent from Shahpur Assembly segment in Kangra district, against BJP’s Sarveen Chaudhary and Kewal Singh Pathania of Congress, with virtually no access to resources, all that Major Mankotia is counting on is his connect and the “youth power” in the constituency and their “liking for his rebellious streak.”
The 35-year-long political career of the 77-year-old leader has seen him creating several controversies even as he switched political parties too. A former cabinet minister in Virbhadra’s government in 2004 who was removed in a downsizing of the cabinet mid-term, Major Mankotia quit and rejoined Congress several times, joined BSP and V P Singh’s Janata Dal before rejoining the Congress.
During the 2012 election, Virbhadra had got him back in the party fold. He had joined BSP in 2007, gave tickets to 26 Congress rebels, who impacted party’s outcome and helped BJP to form the government in the state. Though he lost the 2012 election, he was appointed as HP Tourism Board’s vice chairman but was again removed unceremoniously in July this year as the party felt he would himself resign and start his tirade against the CM.
“I was approached by the Congress party to rejoin them before this election, too. Several tickets were held up as they were waiting for me to agree. But I had decided I would not go back to the Congress. It is my ideological battle. They have buckled under the pressure of a tainted leader, who is charged of graft and is out on bail. I wonder why other ministers have been quiet,” Major Mankotia told The Indian Express.
Visiting village after village daily in a bid to garner support, Mankotia is raising the years old issue that Kangra district, that influences the outcome of every Assembly election by sending maximum of 15 legislators from any district to the Assembly, did not get its due. “The youth are without jobs. No industry was set up here. The district is pathetically neglected. This is now a hinterland and we are reduced to be second-class citizens.”
He promises he would certainly take the issue to a logical conclusion. But even if he wins, how much would an Independent MLA be able? “I can say that I can start a revolution with youths, who are supporting me.”
Major Mankotia and Virbhadra have had a ‘off-on’ relationship. Both are alumni of Bishop Cotton School. Mankotia started his political career in 1982 and won from Shahpur as an Independent. He was then taken into Congress fold by former prime minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 when the state saw mid-term polls.
After differences cropped up between him and Virbhadra, he joined VP Singh’s Janata Dal in 1989. He rejoined the Congress in 1993 when Virbhadra again re-inducted him. In 2002, he was inducted into Virbhadra’s cabinet as a tourism minister but was removed unceremoniously two years later leading to differences between the duo. In 2007, he joined BSP and a CD purported to be about a conversation between Virbhadra, his wife Pratibha Singh and an IAS officer was played by him across the state. Later,a court dismissed the case. He was again re-inducted into the Congress by Virbhadra in 2012.