He believes in himself and is at his belligerent best when challenged. This is, perhaps, his quality and strength too. But why Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has been left alone to campaign for the November 9 assembly elections in Himachal Pradseh has already started raising questions on Congress’ strategy.
“I get the strength to fight against all odds from the Goddess — Bhimakali , who has never failed me,” the 83-year-old said. With just five days to go for elections and bombarded by star campaigners from BJP, Singh has been ploughing a lonely furrow, defending the Congress turf and making a bid for a seventh term in office. Only a few Congress leaders are camping at hotels in Shimla and have mostly remained confined to holding meetings at the PCC office.
Covering almost two to three districts and holding eight to 10 poll meetings a day, Raja Sahib – as Singh is fondly called – has held rallies in almost 45 assembly constituencies. Barring a few days when he had a helicopter at his disposal, the Congress veteran has preferred to travel by road.
“By now, Raja sahib has held over 100 rallies and as the election draws near he proposes to cover almost every corner of the hill state, where travelling tough terrains remains an issue,” an aide of the CM said.
Contrast this with the BJP, who has brought all its top leaders to campaign in the state. Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, several Union ministers, party spokesmen, chief ministers from Haryana, Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, MP and Jammu and Kashmir have paid a visit to the hill state.
“Everyone is ready to come and campaign for the party because people are coming to listen to them. No one will come if the peoples’ response is dull,” said former CM Vijay Bahuguna, who joined the BJP before the Uttrakhand polls. “It is a pity as to how the Congress has gone on a back foot and left Virbhadra Singh alone. Look how Rahul Gandhi has skipped Himachal to be in Gujarat where there is still some time for campaigning,” Bahuguna said. Gujarat goes to polls on December 9.
The seriousness of the BJP shows in its campaigning strategy. It has sent its leaders in the areas where they can create maximum impact. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari, I&B Minister Smriti Irani, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, prominent Muslim leader Shahnawaj Hussain have all attracted sizeable crowds wherever they have held rallies. Union Health minister J P Nadda, who was pipped by Prem Kumar Dhumal as CM candidate, has already covered length and width of the state.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was specially flown in for the release of party’s vision document. BJP has at its disposal six helicopters (two sent by national unit), a huge fleet of vehicles and hundreds of committed cadres. In fact, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey, who is BJP’s poll in-charge, has a strong team of around 58 people working 24X7 operating from three different places. It seems Congress’ strategy have fallen flat in face of BJP’s well-crafted plans.
However, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala mocked at BJP’s “army of star campaigners”. “In a typical Haryanvi wrestling match, when the pahalwan is week, his supporters make a lot of noise. But, our pahalwan (Virbhadra Singh) is very strong. We know his capabilities to win the bout even if he is put into a tough situation. His presence is enough in the ring,” Surjewala said.
Surjewala said Rajya Sabha member Anand Sharma, Sachin Pilot, former Haryana CM Bhupinder Hooda amd Punjab MP Sunil Jakhar had already campaigned in the state. More leaders, including former CM Sheila Dixit, Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, Navjot Sidhu and Raj Babbar, would join Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for his rally on November 6. Surjewala said Sonia Gandhi was also supposed to address a rally but cancelled it on health grounds, while Manmohan Singh and Jyotiraditya Scinda too won’t be able to attend.
However, Surjewala also questioned the saffron party on its source of funding for the publicity blitz. “We wonder as to where the whole money/resources is coming from for the BJP to spend on helicopters, planes, posters and publicity blitz. The BJP’s flamboyance of throwing money left, right and centre is not new, whereas the Congress believes in simplicity,” he said.