The knives are out in the Himachal Pradesh Congress after the party’s drubbing in Assembly elections. A day after former chief minister Virbhadra Singh blamed the defeat on distribution of tickets, state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu on Tuesday hit back, saying the main reason for the defeat was that “governance (under Virbhadra) was not as per expectation of the people”. He said it was not fair to blame ticket distribution alone since Singh, as the chief minister, had a “free hand” in deciding candidates.
Sukhu told The Indian Express: “Governance was not as per the expectation of the people. There was anger among the youth over the decision to give extension to some 2,500 government employees who had retired…. The issue of corruption, too, was on people’s minds, which reflected in their voting.”
The BJP had levelled allegations of corruption against Singh during the campaign. Leading the charge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called the previous government a “zamanati sarkar” (a government on bail). “Virbhadra Singh is out on bail, his family is on bail, party is on bail, and the government is on bail. It’s zamanati sarkar running the state,” Modi had said in one of his campaign speeches.
Asked about Singh’s claim that the Congress would have “definitely done well” if distribution of tickets had been better, Sukhu said the chief minister had a free hand in deciding candidates. “Only four people who were officer-bearers of Himachal Pradesh Congress were given tickets on my recommendation, and all of them won,” he said. “All the other tickets were distributed either by the chief minister or decided with everyone’s consent, which means we deferred to his wishes. All those he wanted to be given tickets were given tickets, and we agreed.”
The BJP won 44 seats in the state, reducing the Congress to just 21 in the 68-member state Assembly. Sukhu said the party has always lost after a five-year term of Singh as chief minister. Singh has been chief minister of Himachal Pradesh six times. Sukhu did not give a direct reply when asked whether Singh, 83, should retire from politics. He said the Congress is now looking at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and would focus all its energy in preparing for that. “We will have to strengthen the Congress as an organisation and end personality cult (in the party),” he said. Sukhu also said that the Gujarat results have come as a morale booster for the Congress.