In a political career spanning six decades, Virbhadra Singh was chief minister of Himachal Pradesh for six terms besides being a member of Parliament five times and member of the legislative assembly nine times. There’s hardly any leader who can match up to such popularity. So, when people woke up to the news of the 87-year-old leader’s passing away, it was termed as the end of an era.
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With the state Congress at the crossroads ahead of the crucial 2022 assembly elections, it’s a challenge for the family to carry forward the legacy of Raja Sahib. His son Vikramaditya Singh, 31, is the obvious heir apparent with Virbhadra’s wife Pratibha Singh, who has been a two-term MP from Mandi, staying away from active politics since her defeat in the 2014 general election.
Making way for his son
Vikramaditya entered politics in 2013 when he was elected president of the Himachal Pradesh Youth Congress, a post he served for five years. In 2017, he was elected to the assembly from the Shimla Rural segment. Virbhadra had vacated the seat for his son and chosen to shift to Arki constituency in neighbouring Solan district.
Though Vikramaditya entered politics at almost the same age as his father, stepping into his shoes and matching his popularity is going to be one tall order for the young scion of the Bushahr princely state.
Virbhadra was known for his political acumen, administrative grip and compassion and Vikramaditya knows he has a long way to go.
Congress, a divided house
The Congress remains a divided house in the state with many claimants to the chief minister’s post though none of the present crop of leaders is a crowdpuller of Virbhadra’s stature.
Prominent party leaders in the state are All India Congress Committee secretary Asha Kumari, leader of the opposition Mukesh Agnihotri, former minister and Virbhadra’s trusted lieutenant Sudhir Sharma, and former state chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and five-time legislator Harshwardhan Chauhan.
Time to give younger leader a chance
“After this colossal loss, it’s time for the Congress to give space to the younger leadership like its rival BJP has done,” said Harish Thakur, the chairman of the department of political science at Himachal Pradesh University (HPU), Shimla.
He said Sukhu or Agnihotri could be appropriate to lead the party’s charge given their experience in state politics.