Two-time MP PRATIBHA SINGH, secured her third victory in the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll recently. This has not only surprised many but also upset the BJP’s calculations ahead of the Assembly election slated next year in Himachal Pradesh. The election seemingly witnessed a reflection of the developmental work undertaken by Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh, a six-time Chief Minister. Even after his demise, his larger-than-life image ensured the victory of his wife Pratibha Singh.
In an interview with BHAWANI NEGI, she talks about the Congress’ prospects and how she proposes to carry forward the legacy of Virbhadra Singh.
Q. What is the significance of your victory in the Mandi bypoll and the Congress emerging winner in the other three assembly segments? You have defeated the CM on his home turf?
A. I think these election results will definitely play a vital role in the future for the Congress party. The party has not been doing well in other states; we have lost many states and elections. Now the people want to make a new beginning, starting from Himachal Pradesh. These elections will lend an impetus to the Congress party ahead of the coming Assembly elections next year. A trend has now been set which shows that Congress is on a comeback trail. And also people want to send across a strong message that they are not to be taken for granted and know what is best for them.
Q. What are the reasons for BJP’s defeat?
A. We have learnt from these elections that people want development and cannot be fooled with empty promises. During my campaigning, I came across people who drew comparisons between the performance of the incumbent BJP government and the previous Congress regime under Virbhadra Singhji. His contribution was compared with the four years of the BJP government.
The public has intensely made known how vital his contribution has been. In addition, there was an undercurrent against BJP’s double standards on inflation, unemployment, one rank-one-pension, issue of ‘Four Lane’ compensation to affected families and the farmers’ stir. It was the people’s angst that poured out as they had waited long, in anticipation of the promises being translated on the ground.
The people realised their folly and this is one of the reasons they wanted to revert to Congress.
Q. Do you think CM Jai Ram Thakur should resign in the wake of these defeats?
A. I don’t think so. We should take victory and defeat in good spirit. Both as a government and opposition, we should work jointly to make the state prosperous.
Q. How did you decide to contest the bypoll? Was it a difficult decision, particularly when the CM hails from Mandi district?
A. It was difficult in the sense that we had lost the last Mandi Lok Sabha election-2019 by a heavy margin. Congress then lost all 17 assembly seats in the Mandi parliamentary constituency. Seeing all this, it was quite difficult to decide whether I should contest the election. But then after Virbhadra Singhji passed away, the overwhelming tribute and huge demand of the people mourning the passing away of a fatherly figure, I changed my mind.
They wanted someone who would carry forward the concerns he had for them and for this, they have shown faith in our family. All this has now moved me to dedicate my remaining life to the people. Furthermore, the Congress leaders of the state unanimously projected me and the high command also entrusted the task to me.
Q. You have been often quoted saying that you would carry forward Virbhadra Singh’s legacy? What can the people expect from you?
A. Virbhadra Singhji had many dreams for the state. Many of which he fulfilled during his tenure as the Chief Minister and worked a lot which is visible on the ground. Now shouldering the responsibility, I am determined to accomplish those remaining dreams which he generally shared to bring about all-round progress and development, irrespective of any regionalism. He did not believe in regionalism and always strived for the uniform development of Himachal Pradesh.
Q. How do you see this statement of CM Jai Ram Thakur, ‘Mandi hamari this, hamari hai, hamari he rahegei’ (Mandi was, is, and will remain ours) to which you have retaliated ‘Mandi Ham sab ki hai, hum sabki rahegi (Mandi belongs to all of us).
A. It was an unfortunate statement. This was probably an emotional card, an attempt of CM Thakur to woo the voters of his home district.
Q. After Virbhadra Singh, there is no one to lead the party in the upcoming polls. If given a chance, would you or your son like to lead the party in the upcoming assembly polls? Would you like to be the CM candidate?
A. No, not at all. It is for the Congress high command to decide who will lead the state. We have to first work hard unitedly to get our party back to power in the state.
Q.What are your immediate plans?
A. As a thanksgiving, I intend to travel across the Mandi constituency to express my gratitude and meet the people to discuss their problems and demands, so that I can become their voice and take up their issues with the central government. I have also decided to open my office in Mandi, so that I can reach out to people, instead of having them travel to Shimla with their grievances and demands.