Amid reports of factionalism in HP Congress, former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has stepped in to quell dissent and organised a lunch party for the party leaders at his residence in Shimla on Sunday.

Among those who were present in the meeting include state Congress chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri, former ministers Vidya Stokes, Thakur Singh Bharmouri among others.

Most of these leaders are considered to be Virbhadra Singh loyalists and they had supported him during his previous regimes.

According to party sources, the lunch party was aimed at putting a united face in 2022 assembly elections and formulate strategy to win upcoming assembly elections in Himachal.

State Congress chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, however, called for not linking the meeting with politics and said the leaders had gathered to celebrate the birthday of Virbhadra Singh which could not be done last month due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It should not be linked to politics. Virbhadra is a senior leader and I have his blessings,” he told the media after the meeting.

The meeting seems to be a counter of another lunch diplomacy meeting organised by former minister Kaul Singh Thakur in which former party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, party leaders Sudhir Sharma, Harhvardhan Chauhan, Rohit Thakur, Ashish Butail and Sohan Singh Thakur were present.

And to fuel the speculations of rift within the party, these leaders did not attend the lunch at Singh’s residence and others leaders as G S Bali, Asha Kumari, Chandresh Kumari, Viplove Thakur, Sujan Singh Pathania among others too abstained from the meeting.

It is worthwhile to mention here that the previous lunch diplomacy meeting under Kaul Singh Thakur had created quite a furore with Rathore sending notice to these leaders and he had even reported the matter to party high command.

This had resulted in state Congress incharge Rajni Patil issuing a directive to all party leaders to not to take internal party matters in public domain and had asked all leaders to abstain from issuing statements to the media on the issue.