WITH dark clouds covering the evening sky,organisers looked worried as they feared this might cast a shadow on Congress president Sonia Gandhis visit on Monday to lay the foundation stone for the much-awaited Rohtang Tunnel project. There was,however,another factor that overshadowed this fear: factionalism in the Congress. Top leaders remained huddled in their respective camps,guarding their own flocks.
There was an open display of bitter rivalry,lack of unity and political maneuvering throughout the day.
Union Minister for Steel Virbhadra Singh,who is also a sitting MP from Mandi (that includes Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti),was the man calling the shots,coordinating with the defence ministry and the district administration. Surrounding him were 18 loyal MLAs,former ministers and other Congressmen.
Virbhadra,who has been camping here since Friday,held a meeting with Union Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju,top defence officials and Border Roads Organisation teams on Sunday. Along with with Raju,he drove to the construction site and also inspected Solang Nullah,the venue for Sonias rally on Monday.
Quite a distance away were camping Congress Legislature Party leader Vidya Stokes and PCC president Kaul Singh Thakur. Both visited Solang Nullah separately and did not speak to Virbhadra throughout the day. Former PCC president Viplove Thakur,who is a Rajya Sabha member,visited the site even before Virbhadra,Stokes and Kaul Singh did.
Former minister and MLA G S Bali,who flew in from the USA on Saturday,reached Manali in the morning and interacted briefly with Virbhadra. He also remained in touch with Stokes.
To get security passes from the superintendent of police (Kullu),the rival camps sent their separate lists of names and struggled hard to get maximum passes for their men.
While Stokess camp had to work hard to fix a meeting with Sonia and get some of its men included in the list,to which Virbhadra Singh had strong objections,the latter managed to score a point by getting maximum number of tribal men and women from Lahaul-Spiti accommodated to welcome Sonia Gandhi at the helipad before she proceeds for the tunnel venue.
The state government and the BJP leadership tried to confine itself to facilitating the arrangements. Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal reviewed the security arrangements with top police and civil officers.
Both parties were quick to claim credit for the project. While the Congress attributed it to the efforts of the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi,Dhumal asserted that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayees contribution in sanctioning the project would go down in the annals of history.
I will be happy if Sonia Gandhi gives a firm commitment of approving the Manali-Leh railway line project to counter Chinas efforts to build a railway and road network on its side, said the CM.