She gets brickbats for giving bouquets

Shimla, Sep 6 (IANS) She is getting brickbats from the opposition, but gives bouquets to party bosses. Ever since her husband returned to power in Himachal Pradesh, she has been playing more than just a second fiddle and has been proactive in New Delhi in seeking more infrastructure projects for the state.

Her being a member of parliament has only helped her in achieving her goals. And if the party insiders are to be believed, Pratbiha Singh, the wife of septuagenarian Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, is all set to step into her husband's shoes when the time comes.

Political observers say that since winning the Mandi parliamentary bypoll June 30 with a record margin, Pratibha Singh has been lobbying hard with New Delhi to get liberal funding for central-aided projects, particularly dealing with infrastructure and connectivity, sanctioned for the state.

She called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh twice and sought central assistance of Rs.1,000 crore for repairing the damage caused by heavy rain in Kinnaur district June 16-17.

But the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is taking potshots at her for going overboard to please the top bosses in the Congress.

"The people of rain-ravaged Kinnaur are still crying for financial and material aid, but their MP is busy in pleasing the central government ministers by presenting them with bouquets," state BJP chief Satpal Satti said in a statement.

"Despite presenting so many bouquets, the central assistance till date is almost zero," he added.

Besides meeting the prime minister, the newly elected MP called on over 10 union ministers, including Anand Sharma for a central industrial package till 2020, K. Chiranjeevi to develop tourism infrastructure, Mallikarjun Kharge for expanding the railway network and Sushilkumar Shinde for deputing a central team to tour rain-ravaged areas.

"The chief minister is literally grooming his wife to get a feel of the state's affairs. She is in fact the de facto chief minister," said a senior minister who didn't wish to be identified.

He told IANS that a battery of senior government officials has been attached to Pratibha Singh to brief her on a day-to-day basis on the state's financial and infrastructural issues.

"She is pushing hard for speedy implementation of central projects that have been caught in unnecessary logjams due to the stubborn attitude of the previous BJP government," an official said.

Congress leaders said two-time MP Pratibha Singh had been marginalised in the state politics since 2009 when her husband got elected from the Mandi Lok Sabha. She represented that seat from 2004 to 2009.

The Congress had denied a ticket to her from Kasumpti in the December assembly elections. That was the second time she had been denied a ticket.

In 2009, she failed to get a party ticket for the assembly by-election in Rohru, the seat vacated by her husband after he shifted to New Delhi by winning the Lok Sabha election.

"Since Virbhadra Singh's only son Vikramaditya is yet to enter politics and his critics have been saying that he has lost his edge, he wants to keep his wife in the forefront till his son is mature enough to enter the political arena," said a close confidant of the chief minister.

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

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