Virbhadra back as Himachal CM

Former Union Minister Virbhadra Singh, who led the Congress to an impressive victory in the Himachal Pradesh elections, will be the state's new chief minister, the party decided on Saturday.

The party high command cleared the name of the five-time chief minister after a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting here at party headquarters attended by all 36 newly-elected legislators chose Virbhadra Singh as the CLP leader.

"Virbhadra Singh will be the next chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. Party president Sonia Gandhi cleared his name after the newly-elected MLAs chose hism as the CLP leader," AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told the media.

Besides Dwivedi, two other central observers - Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and party in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Birender Singh - attended the meeting.

Earlier, when the meeting began Virbhadra Singh, who is also the PCC chief, moved a resolution leaving the issue of deciding the CLP leader to Sonia Gandhi.

"After we informed her (Sonia) of this, she suggested taking the view of the MLAs," Dwivedi said, adding that the party observers then met all the legislators individually.

Sources said that 31 of the 36 newly elected MLAs reposed faith in Virbhadra Singh's leadership with some suggesting that by making him the chief minister, the Congress can hope to win all the four Lok Sabha seats in the hill state.

Virbhadra, who will soon head for Delhi to work out modalities for formation of the government, including the date for swearing in, said, "People trust me and my leadership and know my work. I am also thankful to Sonia Gandhi for reposing faith in me."

The 78-year-old veteran leader, who had resigned as Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises only few months back following framing of corruption charges against him by a Shimla court, was made the PCC chief in the run-up to the Assembly polls. He was given the task to bring the party back to power in the hill state where BJP seemed to have entrenched itself deep. He led the party to a two-third majority with the Congress winning 36 (against the 23 in the outgoing House) of the total 68 seats.

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