Former Himachal Congress chief: ‘Announcing CM face before polls doesn’t always help…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there’
Former Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee Chairman Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, 56, was recently appointed chairman of the party’s campaign committee. In New Delhi to meet with central leaders ahead of the ‘Chintan Shivir’ in Udaipur which kicked off on Friday, Sukhu discussed a wide range of issues with The Indian Express, from uplifting former opponent Virbhadra’s wife Singh, Pratibha Singh as State Congress Leader factionalism in Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls later this year.
Normally, the chairmen of campaign committees are projected as the main ministerial candidates. In your case, Congress is a little hesitant to declare you CM face.
At a rally in Mandi in 2017, Rahul Gandhi declared Virbhadra Singh as CM candidate. If all had gone well, Virbhadra would have become the CM for the seventh time. But it didn’t because Congress didn’t win. Thus, announcing the face of the CM before voting does not always help. First, our deputies must be elected and we must obtain the required number. Only then should this issue be – and will be – addressed. Secondly, it was after 40 years that someone other than Virbhadra Singh became the chairman of the campaign committee. He held that position, became the CM candidate and eventually the CM as well. This time, we have decided to conduct elections under collective leadership. Each leader has been given responsibilities. Everyone was told to work hard and win the election. As for the CM candidate, we will cross that bridge when we get there.
But aren’t you in the running to become CM?
You see, I gave 40 years to the party, from the grassroots to the campaign committee. I entered student politics at the age of 17. I have been the longest serving Head of State of NSUI (National Students’ Union of India) – six years – longest serving Head of State of Youth Congress – 10 years – and longest serving Chairman of CCP – six years. Also, I was a councilor for the Shimla Municipal Corporation for 10 years. So whatever the winning deputies and the high command tell me to do, I will do as a real party soldier.
Your tenure as CCP chairman was marked by an acrimonious relationship with then-CM Virbhadra Singh.
I am attached to the party ideology. Everything was problem-based. There were issues I supported him on and there were issues I opposed him on.
Now that his wife Pratibha Singh is president of the CCP, will the old bitterness come into play?
I respect the position of CCP president. We will fight the elections united.
Virbhadra is said to have ensured that there was no second line of leadership in the party. If he didn’t like a CCP president, he would fire him. What made you stand up to him?
Undoubtedly integrity, fearlessness, courage, sincerity, lack of greed and political IQ.
The idea of a recent CCP reshuffle was floated last year and you have been told that you were the instigator.
No no. I had surgery for a tumor in my abdomen the first week of December. I was in Delhi. Of our 18 deputies at the time, 11 came to inquire about me. Five of them were Virbhadra loyalists. They also met with the high command and pushed my name for an important role in the elections.
The BJP alleges that there are too many factions in Congress.
After the disappearance of Virbhadra Singh, 90% of the congressional unity of the state is united. Only 10% speak with a different voice, which is a healthy sign of intra-party democracy.
Will Congress be able to take advantage of the anti-incumbency against the government of Jai Ram Thakur?
Not only anti-incumbent, we will also benefit from this government’s non-performance, its ties to the (drug and sand mining) mafias, and its inability to create jobs and contain inflation. We will win greatly.
What do you think of AAP’s entry into Himachal Pradesh?
Congress has protected democracy for 75 years. Each party has the right to fight the elections from where it wants. If the AAP has decided to contest the elections in our state, they are welcome to do so. But the state’s electoral history should be kept in mind. It has always been a competition between two parties – the Congress and the BJP. There is another significant fact. Six or seven months before each election to the Assembly, there always emerges a third party or a third morcha, whether it is the outfit of the late Sukh Ram or that of Maheshwar Singh or the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) or the LJP (Lok Janshakti Party), but without much electoral gain. So the AAP has a long way to go in the hill state. They have to work hard.
Recently, Khalistan flags have been popping up in Himachal Pradesh…
These are diversionary tactics (of the government). If there is such a threat, the law should take its course.