Himachal poll war hots up as Congress names candidates

March 15th, 2009 - 6:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, March 15 (IANS) The hills of Himachal Pradesh have warmed up to the April-May general elections, with the Congress finally naming candidates for three of the state’s four parliamentary seats - almost two months after archrival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced all its nominees.
The Congress Saturday named candidates for three seats - Shimla, Kangra and Mandi. It is still dithering on a name from Hamirpur, from where the BJP has fielded Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son and sitting MP Anurag Thakur.

The Congress had won the Shimla (Scheduled Castes), Kangra and Mandi parliamentary seats in the last general elections in 2004, whereas the BJP got the Hamirpur seat.

This time, five-time former Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh - who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections after 26 years - is locked in a stiff one-to-one fight with the BJP’s two-time MP Maheshwar Singh in Mandi.

Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is the sitting MP from this seat. In 2004, she had defeated Maheshwar Singh by 66,566 votes. She had, however, lost to Maheshwar Singh in 1999 by over 131,000 votes.

For the first time, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has fielded a candidate from this seat. It’s Onkar Shad, a technocrat, who is expected to dent the Congress’ winning margin. All these years, Left-leaning voters had been voting for the Congress in this seat.

Two sitting Congress MPs, Dhani Ram Shandil and Chander Kumar, have been fielded by the party in Shimla and Kangra respectively against the BJP’s Virender Kashyap and Rajan Sushant.

In the 2004 elections, Chander Kumar had defeated former union minister and BJP candidate Shanta Kumar by 17,791 votes, whereas Shandil defeated H.N. Kashyap of the BJP by 108,180 votes.

The only seat where the Congress is still undecided is Hamirpur.

Anurag Thakur, who is contesting on the BJP ticket, had won the by-election to this seat by a high margin of 174,666 votes in May 2008. The constituency has witnessed two by-polls since the 2004 elections.

A faction of the Congress leaders favours the candidature of Narinder Thakur, a defected BJP leader, who joined their party only recently and is well versed with the ways of the Dhumal-led government.

The move is being seen as an apparent attempt by the Congress to embarrass the ruling BJP and make a dent in its stronghold.

A section within the Congress is, however, said to be resorting to rumours to counter Narinder Thakur’s possible candidature. Grapevine has it that Bollywood actress Preity Zinta or former cricketer Madan Lal could be fielded by the party.

Political pundits believe the Congress is likely to face a tough challenge from the BJP in retaining its three parliamentary seats, as the latter had seen a landslide victory in the state assembly elections December 2007. The state has over 4.6 million voters.

-Indo-Asian News Service

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