Pratibha Singh, 67, the wife of six-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister, the late Virbhadra Singh, has represented Mandi in the Lok Sabha twice and lost to BJP candidates twice. She is contesting her fifth election from Mandi, which Virbhadra Singh represented four times, hoping to win over voters with the promise to carry forward his legacy.
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Q. Which three issues will be priority if you are elected?
A. The three issues that the masses are facing is inflation, unemployment and autocratic policies of the Narendra Modi-led central government. I will work to provide relief to the public from rising prices and unemployment. I will also raise my voice against the Modi government’s anti-people policies at every possible platform.
Were you willing to contest this election or was it forced on you as the Congress lacks a formidable face in Mandi?
Nobody forced me. I respected the sentiments of party workers and the decision of the high command, who chose me to represent Mandi. My objective is to carry forward the legacy of my late husband and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and realise his dreams that have been left unfulfilled. Mandi was his workplace. He represented this constituency four times and I have been an MP from here twice.
Your opponents say that you were a failure during your previous tenure as MP and now you are seeking votes in the name of your husband.
The BJP runs such false propaganda against opponents. As an MP, I allocated the MPLAD fund equally across the parliamentary constituency. Whatever proposals were submitted from whichever assembly constituency or panchayat was approved without any discrimination. I have every right to seek votes in the name of Virbhadra Singh. The credit for whatever development has taken place in Himachal goes to him. So, I have every right to seek votes in the name of his achievements.
People of Mandi will vote for the Congress to pay homage to Virbhadra Singh. The Rohtang tunnel project was sanctioned when I was the Lok Sabha member. There are many projects that were sanctioned for Mandi during my tenure whether it was the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or water supply scheme for the town.
Your remark on the Kargil War and army has not gone down well with people.
It is the BJP and chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, who are trying to cash in on army sentiments. They are banking on the army’s valour in the Kargil War. It was the chief minister’s statement that the BJP candidate had won the Kargil War and will also win the Mandi byelection. So, they are comparing the Mandi byelection with the Kargil War for political gains. I salute the BJP nominee for his bravery as an army officer. However, it is the chief minister who is trying to present the Kargil War victory as his and his party’s achievement. Kargil War was fought on our soil, in which many of our soldiers sacrificed their lives. I pay my tributes to them.
Don’t you think the real issues have been put on the backburner amid the controversy?
The BJP is running away from the real issues. It is serving its political interests by creating a divide in society on the basis of region, religion, caste and creed. They deliberately create controversy to divert attention from the failure of its government at the Centre and the state. But these nefarious designs will not succeed and people will give the BJP a befitting reply in the elections.
Will the Virbhadra family continue to dominate the Congress party politics in Himachal?
Now, that Virbhadra Singh is no more among us, not only me but every person in the state who loved him is also hurting. My family will remain dedicated to the service of the masses.
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