Will Rajeev Shukla's cavalier attitude cost Congress dearly in Himachal Pradesh?

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
29 Sep 2022
Will Rajeev Shukla's cavalier attitude cost Congress dearly in Himachal Pradesh?

New Delhi: The Congress appears to be in disarray in Himachal Pradesh due to massive infighting among its leaders and a cavalier attitude of its state in-charge Rajeev Shukla.

The infighting has resulted in the exodus from the Congress, enabling the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to recover some lost ground despite facing massive anti-incumbency against its government in the hill state.

Two working presidents - Pawan Kajal and Harsh Mahajan - have so far quit the Congress with both claiming that the grand old party is directionless in Himachal Pradesh.

The resignation of Mahajan from the Congress after 45 years came as a shock to many given that he was a known loyalist of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh. He was also said to be very close to the late leader’s wife and current state unit chief Pratibha Singh and her son Vikramaditya Singh.

Mahajan was involved in the election management of the Congress for decades now, and his exit was seen as a serious blow that hit the grand old party barely some weeks ahead of the assembly elections.

Himachal Pradesh along with Gujarat goes to polls in November-December this year.

Himachal Congress leaders largely blame Shukla for the mess. They allege that Shukla is busy in the management of cricket in India and has no time to address the crisis in the party.

Considered close to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Shukla has virtually handed over the management of the party’s election management to Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and his team. In July this year, the Congress leadership named Baghel as the party’s senior observer to supervise election and campaign management in Himachal Pradesh.

Baghel’s close aide Vinod Verma has been camping in the state for the past few months to oversee the overall efforts though even the Chhattisgarh chief minister has so far visited the state only once.

Since his appointment in September 2020, Shukla hasn't travelled across the nook and corner of the state.

Congress leaders claim that he visits only those places where a chopper could land.

Shukla has held several meetings related to the Himachal Pradesh Congress in five-star hotels in Chandigarh in a bid to avoid travelling to the state.

These leaders have repeatedly flagged his closeness to some BJP leaders from Himachal Pradesh and insisted that his continuation will cause serious damage to the Congress in the upcoming elections.

Shukla was battling for current Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri as the state unit chief but the leadership decided to go with Virbhadhra Singh’s legacy and handed over the reins of the party to his wife.

Though Pratibha Singh has failed to carry along all factions, Agnihotri would have led to even larger defections. Besides, he hails from the Una district, which is insignificant to Himachal Pradesh’s political landscape.

Several Congress leaders continue to petition the high command to replace Shukla with a senior leader who is able to put the party back on track as otherwise, the BJP was all set to retain power in Himachal Pradesh on the lines of another hill state Uttarakhand where it won a second consecutive term in the assembly elections earlier this year.

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