An era ends in Himachal Congress with Virbhadra Singh (1934-2021) : The Tribune India

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Obituary

An era ends in Himachal Congress with Virbhadra Singh (1934-2021)



Pratibha Chauhan

Tribune News Service

Shimla, July 8

The passing away of six-time Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh marks the end of an era where he dominated the state political scenario for almost six decades. His death has left a big vacuum in the Congress as no other leader enjoys the kind of mass appeal and popularity that he enjoyed across the state.

 

Also read: Former Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh dies of post-Covid complications at 87
 PM Modi, Jai Ram, Nadda condole Virbhadra's demise; Capt remembers him as his elder brother

It was his indomitable spirit and endurance that saw the Congress stalwart remain a Union minister and dominate the political spectrum of Himachal for almost six decades. He became an MP at the age of 28 in 1962 and chief minister for the first time in 1983, to repeat the feat on six occasions.

Even in his last days, in hospital, the “Raja”, as he was referred to, exhibited the same fighting spirit which remained the hallmark of his entire political career. However, it was after a three-month-long battle, including his successful fight against corona twice, that he finally breathed his last here on Thursday.

Amongst the tallest Congress leaders in the country, he was a grassroots leader who won nine Assembly and five Lok Sabha elections, a feat few politicians can boast of. Virbhadra remained state Congress president in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 2012 before becoming chief minister. However, his stint as CM in 1998 lasted for a brief period of 18 days as he failed to win the confidence vote as Independent legislator Ramesh Dhawala chose to support the Dhumal-led BJP regime.

Even his most bitter critics across party lines admired the “Raja” for his fighting spirit and resolute trait to bounce back against all adversity. It was his larger-than-life persona which ensured that nobody within the Congress dared challenge his authority despite his often being accused of having a feudalistic and dictatorial style of functioning.

Born on June 23, 1934, Virbhadra made his entry into politics after being elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1962. “I joined politics to serve the people as the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself chose me for being fielded on the Congress ticket in the 1962 Lok Sabha election,” he would often say about his initiation into politics at the hands of Pt Nehru.

Despite his immense popularity and having support of majority MLAs, Virbhadra on many occasions had to fight his way to the CM’s chair, often against the wishes of the high command. In 1993, the tenacious politician in him ensured that he did not lose the fight for the chair to Sukh Ram, his arch rival, who had the full support and blessings of the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. Virbhadra on his part exhibited his strength with the support of majority MLAs, compelling a reluctant high command to assume the CM’s chair.

Often welcomed with the slogan “Raja nahin fakir hai, Himachal ki takdir hai,” the six-time CM, unlike most other erstwhile rulers who joined politics, remained most accessible and people-friendly. Known for being extremely compassionate, he would not hesitate to extend financial help to the needy from his personal resources in case the cumbersome government rules became a hindrance.

 “He might have been from the Congress, but there is no dearth of his admirers in our party too. He was perhaps the tallest leader with many admirable qualities, which evoked respect from even his die-hard critics,” confessed Rakesh Pathania, Forest Minister.

Former telecommunications minister Sukh Ram remained his biggest bete noire and the two never saw eye to eye. In fact, it was Sukh Ram who remained instrumental in keeping the Congress out of power after he floated his own political outfit, Himachal Vikas Congress, which won five Assembly seats in the 1998 polls and extended support to the Dhumal-led BJP regime.

Barring his last stint from 2012 to 2017 as CM, he was known to read the files very minutely and write comments in his own hand. With age catching up and health issues marring his performance, his last stint saw the Congress veteran leader battling against the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department, who slapped cases against him for alleged disproportionate assets and money laundering. In fact, the CBI raided his house “Holly Lodge” here on the morning of  September 27, 2015, the day of his daughter’s wedding.

In his over-half-a-century-long political career, Virbhadra faced electoral defeat only on two occasions. He had to taste defeat at the hands of former CM Ram Lal Thakur when he lost the Assembly election from Jubbal-Kotkhai in 1990 even though Virbhadra made it to the Assembly as he had also contested from Rohru. He also lost one Lok Sabha election from Mandi in 1977 at the hands of Ganga Singh of the Janata Party.

His last stint as CM from 2012 to 2017 saw him facing corruption charges with the Income Tax department, CBI and Enforcement Directorate filing cases against him, his wife and son, which are still in various stages of investigation.

He has left behind a major vacuum in the Congress with no other leader enjoying the kind of popularity and personal following that he enjoyed in every nook and corner of the state. Despite his frail health and age-related issues, the party was still banking on him as the star campaigner in the 2022 Assembly polls. Now with the passing away of the stalwart, the Congress not only remains a divided house with several claimants to the post of chief minister but is also devoid of any charismatic leader who can pull crowds.

It is unlikely that a leader from any political party can have the kind of popularity and personal following that Virbhadra enjoyed. The imprint left behind by the “Raja” would certainly be difficult for anyone to match.

 


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