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Revamp of Congress Himachal unit sparks concern

As two Congress MLAs joined the ruling BJP in Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday, political experts and a section of party members were concerned about the party’s decision to revamp the State unit, just a few months ahead of the Assembly elections. 

In April this year, the Congress appointed former State Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife and Lok Sabha MP Pratibha Singh as the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president. Four working presidents were appointed including Harsh Mahajan, Rajinder Rana, Pawan Kajal, and Vinay Kumar apart from several office-bearers.   

The Congress party had registered a big win in the Assembly and Parliamentary by-elections that were held in October 2021 in Himachal Pradesh under then party president Kuldeep Singh Rathore and looked strong and unified. The BJP candidates lost by-elections in all three Assembly seats - Fatehpur, Arki, and Jubbal-Kotkhai - and one parliamentary constituency, Mandi, to the Congress. 

‘Jumbo list’

However, later, as the State unit was revamped by replacing the president and appointing four working presidents, besides a ‘jumbo’ list of office-bearers, concerns were felt by a section of party leaders over “tinkering” with an established unit which had delivered victory in key elections.

“When the party unit was revamped, there were leaders who felt that a similar exercise of revamping the State unit just a few months ahead of the Assembly polls in neighbouring Punjab had failed to bear fruitful results. Such an experiment could prove detrimental in Himachal as well,” said a senior party leader, requesting anonymity.

The two MLAs who left the Congress and joined the BJP are Mr. Kajal and Lakhwinder Rana. Notably, Mr. Kajal was one of the newly appointed working presidents of Congress’s State unit. Both the leaders, sources said, were perturbed over the State leadership’s efforts “to weaken them in their Assembly constituencies and promote other leaders against them”.

Reacting after the two MLAs joined the BJP, HPCC president Pratibha Singh said both leaders had come to the Congress from BJP. “The party gave them a lot of respect but we do not know what fear they had of which agency or greed that they have returned to the BJP. They have been expelled from the party,” she said.

A keen political observer, professor Harish Thakur, chairperson of the Department of Political Science at Shimla-based Himachal Pradesh University asserts that changes at the top in the HPCC at a time when only a few months are left for the Assembly election was possibly not a good idea. 

“In Punjab, Congress revamped the State unit a few months ahead of the polls and received a drubbing in the Assembly election. In Himachal Pradesh as well, the party could witness a detrimental impact on its electoral prospects. Ms. Pratibha Singh was brought in as party chief with hopes of capitalising on the legacy of the late Virbhadra Sigh. However, her stature and acceptability in the party are questionable. The ‘groupism’ within the party has been coming to the fore as the election is inching closer. The shifting of Congress MLAs to the BJP is an indication that ‘factionalism’ is rising. The revamping exercise, which has created a ‘jumbo’ organisation of ‘office-bearers’, doesn’t seem to be yielding positive results as yet,” he told The Hindu.

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