Shimla, June 23 (IANS) It was virtually a show of strength by senior Congress leader and union minister Virbhadra Singh, who turned 78 Saturday and is hoping to take over the reins of poll-bound Himachal Pradesh.
His supporters also used the occasion to commemorate his 50 years in politics.
At a public rally here to mark Singh's half century in politics, 21 out of the 23 Congress legislators and equal number of former legislators were present with a clear message to the party high command to declare him as chief ministerial candidate ahead of the elections.
Singh, who has been the chief minister five times in the past, in his brief address to supporters did not touch the leadership issue but did not mince words in taking a dig at state party chief Kaul Singh and legislator G.S. Bali for their conspicuous absence from the rally.
"Entire Congress is sitting here, except Kaul Singh and Bali. Kaul Singh might be busy in Delhi and Bali is tired after his 'padayatra' (foot march)," Singh said.
The rally venue was jampacked with people from different parts of the state.
"I am elated. I feel good when I am in public. I am indebted that I have got so much support and blessings from the people of Himachal in 50 years of politics," Singh, popularly known as Raja saab, said.
Former parliament member Chander Kumar said the Congress could get stronger under Singh's leadership and people across the state wanted him to be at the helm of affairs.
Interestingly, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Vidya Stokes, believed to be his arch rival, announced from the stage that people wanted Singh to lead the party in the forthcoming assembly polls.
Stokes was present at the rally with her loyalist legislators Sukhwinder Sukhu, Rajesh Dharmani, Lakhwinder Rana and Rakesh Kalia.
Accusing the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of carrying out political vendetta against Congress leaders, Singh said he was being made to face cases every time Prem Kumar Dhumal comes to power.
"Last time he came, he sent a charge sheet to the CBI against me and registered a case on some other issue. The move fizzled out as there was nothing against me. This time, he has again booked me in a (corruption) case on the base of a CD, which does not have a head or tail," he said.
A trial court here has reserved its order and will announce June 25 on the question whether corruption charges be framed against Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh.
Political observers feel Singh has to re-establish his credentials as a charismatic leader in the elections as the party faced a humiliating defeat in the 2007 assembly elections. After losing power, he was almost marginalised in the state politics.
To make his presence felt, Virbhadra Singh has already become active and held a series of rallies across the state.
The hill state is likely to go to the polls for its 68 assembly constituencies in October.