One of the senior-most Congress leaders in India and six-time chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh is known for his strong ties with people. A hard-working politician since he was first elected to Parliament in 1962, Singh bounced back every time there was an effort to write him off in Himachal politics by rivals in the Congress or by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Now that Congress is out of power in HP and the ageing politician (84), nine-time MLA in a row, is not the leader of opposition, he seems to have toned down. In an interview with ARCHANA PHULL, Singh talked about himself and politics. Excerpts:
Q: Are you satisfied with your political journey?
A: Yes, I am satisfied. Whatever I wanted to do, I could and I had my way. I am happy to have got the opportunity to work and serve the people at the Centre and in the state for a long time. I have contributed a lot in overall development of Himachal Pradesh, whether in road connectivity, education, health or social sectors. Himachal has emerged as a model of development in the country with our policies.
Q: How about the challenges you faced in politics?
A: Life is full of problems. There is no problem which cannot be solved. I believe in fighting it out and I fought.
Q: You had a long list of loyalists. Do you think many of them have deserted you?
A: No. Some opportunists may have done it. Most of the people are with me. I stay in touch with everyone.
Q: What about your rivals in Congress, particularly former Union minister Sukh Ram?
A: I have no personal animosity with anyone. But Sukh Ram is one of the most opportunistic politicians in Himachal Pradesh. However, he couldn’t beat my popularity and the fighting spirit.
Q: Many Congressmen say that you did not allow a second line of leadership to emerge in the party.
A: I gave good portfolios to senior Congress leaders in my government every time and gave them full independence. It was for them to perform and emerge. I could not have appointed them chief minister myself.
Q; What about the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) and its chief, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu?
A: The PCC is the weakest point of Congress in Himachal. It is a group of people who have got together. The PCC has not played a positive role in the state and is a pot house of intrigues and schemes against others. The PCC chief should be replaced; rather he should have been replaced before assembly polls. The matter was brought to the notice of the Congress high command. Any review after the defeat in polls doesn’t mean anything.
Q: Your name is doing the rounds as the Congress candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll from Mandi.
A: I have no intention to fight the Lok Sabha election. Not that I am not capable of fighting now, but enough is enough. I have contested Lok Sabha polls so many times. I want to take some rest and enjoy.
Q: How is the present BJP government in HP doing?
A: The government is in continuity and they are carrying forward our development projects only. They are putting their plaques on schemes started and completed by us. One thing that I don’t like about the present government is that it has chosen not to open colleges notified by us. We had opened colleges in the remotest of areas so that girls get education at their doorstep. Not many people send their daughters outside to study for safety reasons.
Q: How do you compare the Jai Ram Thakur regime with the Dhumal regime of BJP in HP?
A: Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is decent and his government is not carrying out any vendetta politics. This CM is not cunning and he is not scheming. Compared with this, each time Prem Kumar Dhumal became CM of Himachal, he fabricated cases against me and I was acquitted by the court. I am still facing cases which were registered against me due to political vendetta by Dhumal and his sons.
Q: Do you consider Jai Ram Thakur’s government has brought a new era in HP?
A: The BJP government will complete one year next month, but it has nothing to show as an achievement. Jai Ram Thakur is a five-time MLA in a row and was a minister earlier. He is not new to power. While he doesn’t seem to have control over his ministers, it is commonly believed that Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is running the Himachal government. The people who lack stature and capability have got positions in the Chief Minister’s Office.
Q: What about the performance of the Modi government?
A: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a propagandist. A lot of public money is being spent to boost Modi’s personality. In reality, however, the Modi government has failed in basics. It is a corrupt government. Demonetisation proved to be a disaster. It was just a plank. The economy doesn’t improve just by demonetisation. It requires many follow-ups. Price rise will be a big issue in elections. Prices of all essential commodities have shot up, hitting the common man hard.
Q: What verdict do you predict after the 2019 parliamentary election?
A: I don’t know what will happen. It depends on the showmanship.
Q: Do you think Himachal and its politicians are not given their due nationally, it being such a small state?
A: I agree that Himachal should get its due on merit. I have had a long tenure as CM and Union minister. I did my work earnestly and I never resorted to any flattery. I must mention that former PM Indira Gandhi was a genuine supporter.
Q: How has politics changed over the decades?
A: There is not much change. But yes, when I became Lok Sabha MP in 1962, it was a pleasure to be in the House. Politicians from all parties were large-hearted and knew their issues properly. I remember when I was to deliver my first speech in Parliament, I rehearsed in front of a mirror for two days so that I spoke effectively and didn’t hurt anyone. We learnt a lot as youngsters. It’s not like that anymore.