Tough task awaits new Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) chief, Kuldeep Singh Rathore, who joined office on Thursday, overshadowed by bitter ‘Virbhadra-Sukhu’ rift.

The rivalry between former six-time Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, and former party President Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had blown out of proportions over last week after Sukhu was replaced by Rathore.

The new Congress President could, however, bring senior party leaders together at a public meeting in Shimla earlier in the day (sans Sukhu who joined him later at office). His joining was marred by clashes between supporters of Virbhadra and Sukhu. The supporters, who were shouting slogans in favour of their leaders, entered into a scuffle in front of the senior leadership, including in-charge of party affairs, Rajni Patil, in a charged atmosphere, creating a ruckus in Congress office for a few minutes.

What is more worrying is that all this happened just an hour after the public meeting, Rajni Patil and Rathore had cautioned the party leaders that indiscipline would not be tolerated at any cost.

“There is no place for egos in the party. The organisation is bigger than a person. Persons come and go but the organisation keeps going,” said Rathore. He gave a strict message against any ‘Ganesh Parikrama’ and said, “You will have to act or leave”.

Sensing the media curiosity over Sukhu’s absence in the meeting, Rathore had quickly mentioned that Sukhu could not come as he was unwell, but he will join in office.

“I have supported Sukhu when he became NSUI chief and Youth Congress President in Himachal. Sukhu will also be with us in our fight against BJP,” he said.

Patil too had directly referred to the ongoing ‘war of words’ between the Congress leaders, holding that the party would no more tolerate anyone who vitiates the atmosphere.  With Virbhadra sitting on the stage, Patil gave credit to Sukhu for holding the Congress party together for six years. “I have no doubts that Sukhu will keep supporting,” she said.

The new Congress President has stated he would not work with any prejudices in the organisation. Congress insiders said the timing of his anointment (few months before Lok Sabha polls) makes it a tight rope walk for him in the party.