The chief minister was replying to the four-day discussion on the state’s general budget for the year 2024-25 in the Assembly on Thursday.
Two-time MP Pratibha Singh, secured third victory in the Mandi parliamentary bypoll. This, not only surprised many but has also set a trend for the Assembly elections slated next year in Himachal Pradesh.
The elections witnessed a reflection of the past developmental workers undertaken by Congress stalwart, Virbhadra Singh, a six-time Chief Minister, five-time MP, and former Union Minister.
Even after his demise, his larger-than-life stature prevailed in ensuring the victory of his wife Pratibha Singh (67), who is determined to dedicate her life to carrying forward his legacy.
In an interview with BHAWANI NEGI, she talked about herself and politics.
Q1. What is the significance of your victory in the Mandi bypoll and Congress emerging winner in other three assembly segments? You have defeated CM in his home turf?
A. I think these election results will definitely play a vital role in the future for the Congress party. The party had 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 impetus to the Congress party in wake of the forthcoming Assembly elections slated next year.
A trend has now been set which shows that Congress is on a comeback. And also people want to send across a strong message that they are not to be taken for granted and know what is best.
Q2. What are the reasons for BJP’s defeat?
A. We have learnt from these elections that what people want is 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 his contribution has been noteworthy.
In addition, there was an undercurrent against BJP’s double standard on inflation, unemployment, one rank one pension, issue of fourlane compensation to the affected families and farmer stir.
It was the people’s angst that outpoured as they had waited long, in anticipation of the promises to translate on the ground. The people realized their folly and this is one of the reasons they wanted to revert back to Congress.
Q3. 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.
Q4. Please explain how did you decide to contest the bypoll. Was it a difficult decision, particularly when CM hails from Mandi district?
A. It was difficult in the sense that we had lost the last Mandi Lok Sabha elections-2019 by a heavy margin. Congress then lost all the 17 assembly seats in the Mandi parliamentary constituency.
Seeing all this it was quite difficult to decide, whether I should contest elections. But then after Virbhadra Singhji passed away, the overwhelming tribute and huge demand of the people mourning the passing away of a fatherly figure, whom I met changed my mind.
They wanted someone who would carry forward the similar concerns that 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 for people.
Furthermore, the Congress leaders of the state unanimously projected me and the high command also entrusted the task to me which I abided by.
Q5. 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 even fulfilled during his tenure as a 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 uniform development of Himachal Pradesh.
Q6. How do you see this statement of CM Jai Ram Thakur, ‘Mandi hamari thi, 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 Jai Ram Thakur to woo the voters of his home district.
Q7. 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 party 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.
Q8. What are you immediate plans?
A. As a thanksgiving, I intend travel across the Mandi constituency to express my gratitude and meet the people to listen and 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 up my office in Mandi, so that I can reach out to the people, instead of having them to travel to Shimla with their grievances and demands.