Himachal's Virbhadra to cement 'political bridge'

Shimla, Oct 3 (IANS) This is literally a 'politcal bridge' in Himachal Pradesh.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh will October 16 inaugurate a bridge constructed by the industrialist brothers of the late Hari Narain Saini, a three-time BJP legislator and philanthropist in his Nalagarh constituency.

Political observers say the shrewd Congress chief minister, eyeing the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is trying to woo Saini's sulking family that has been feeling disgruntled with the BJP since his death in 2011, by inaugurating the bridge.

"The visit will be the bridge in politics," an observer believed.

Many of Saini's family members, except his widow Gurnam Kaur, may join the Congress during the chief minister's visit, a senior Congress leader said.

He said this would give a big boost to the ruling Congress to strengthen its base in the Nalagarh constituency, where its candidate faced a humiliating defeat in last November's assembly polls.

Nalagarh has been a BJP bastion for years together, except in the November 2011 by-election which the Congress won.

The brothers of the late Saini, who was known for his close proximity to two-time chief minister Shanta Kumar, have provided over Rs.80 lakh for constructing the 104-metre-long bridge over the Sarsa river near Nalagarh town.

"We met the chief minister in Shimla and he has agreed to inaugurate the bridge on October 16," Saini's eldest brother Avtar Singh told IANS.

He said the chief minister would also address a public rally on that day, his first visit to the area since taking over the helm last December.

Saini's close associates say the late leader's strength in politics was based on the fact that he was the bridge between the rich and the poor and the rural and urban masses.

Saini, who was earlier in the BSP, became popular in 1997 when he had constructed a bridge in the Pargana Malaun area by spending Rs.10 lakh from his own pocket. That bridge was inaugurated by Shanta Kumar.

He had, from his own resources, also constructed two schools that were later taken over by the government and upgraded to high schools, besides carrying out a lot of developmental programmes, mainly in the rural areas of his constituency.

Saini, a former state minister in the BJP government from 1998 to 2003, died of liver cancer.

He made a public appearance in his native village after a long gap just a few days before his death to bid adieu to politics.

"I have finally decided to quit politics following my ill-health and request you to extend your support to my wife," he had said in his emotional speech.

After losing the by-election following Saini's death, the BJP did not give another chance to his widow Gurnam Kaur, who lost by a slender margin, to contest last year's assembly poll. This is why the family was feeling alienated from the party, a senior BJP leader said.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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