Congress treading cautiously in BJP’s Himachal stronghold

March 8th, 2009 - 10:33 am ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, March 8 (IANS) The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) look set for a keen contest in Hamirpur, one of the four parliamentary seats in Himachal Pradesh. However, choosing a candidate for Hamirpur is proving to be a tough call for the Congress, with the names a former BJP defector and even Bollywood actress Preity Zinta doing the rounds.

The state’s ruling BJP has announced Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son and sitting MP Anurag Thakur as its contestant from Hamirpur, which the party considers its stronghold.

But the Congress, in the hope of wresting it in this election, is still dithering on who would be its best bet. In fact it is the only seat in the state where the party is yet to finalise a candidate.

A faction of Congress leaders favours Narinder Thakur, who defected from the BJP and is familiar with the ways of the Dhumal-led government. He is the son of late BJP stalwart Jagdev Chand.

“I am not opposed to the candidature of Narinder Thakur. I personally feel he is the only candidate who can give a tough fight to the Dhumals in their bastion,” state Congress president Kaul Singh Thakur told IANS.

“A section of party leaders have a feeling that Narinder Thakur is a new entrant. But there is no harm in giving him a chance as he knows a lot about the Dhumals,” Kaul Singh Thakur said.

He also discounted speculation about Zinta contesting against Anurag Thakur.

“This is just a rumour campaign by rivals,” he said without clarifying if these rivals were from within the Congress itself or from another party.

Congress leader Vidya Stokes favours a candidate who will be acceptable to top party functionaries as well as workers.

“The party national leadership is yet to take a final decision in this regard,” Stokes said. “Of course, loyalty, dedication and mass appeal of the candidate would be a criteria while finalising the name.”

For Dhumal, who took over the reins of the state Dec 30, 2007, the Hamirpur seat matters a lot, say political analysts.

BJP’s Suresh Chandel had won the seat in the 2004 polls. But he was suspended by the party after the cash-for-queries scam in parliament. In the by-election that followed, Dhumal won in Hamirpur.

However, Dhumal had to resign in 2007 after becoming the state chief minister, necessitating another by-election in which his son Anurag Thakur emerged victorius by a record margin of 174,000 over the Congress candidate.

Retaining this seat is thus important for the BJP.

“In order to keep Narinder Thakur at bay, Dhumal is using some of the Congress legislators, particularly from the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency, to lobby against his candidature,” said a source.

A Congress source said: “Though the party is trying to put up a brave face after its humiliating defeat at the hands of the BJP in the last by-election, it’s now finding it hard to find a strong candidate to counter the BJP.”

In the last general polls, the Congress had won from Shimla which is reserved for Scheduled Castes, along with Kangra and Mandi - the three other parliamentary seats in the state.

However, retaining these seats may pose a challenge for the Congress this time in view of the BJP’s landslide victory in the assembly elections in December 2007.

-Indo-Asian News Service


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