Spotlight on Mandi, Hamirpur (Poll curtainraiser - Himachal Pradesh)

May 12th, 2009 - 11:47 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, May 12 (IANS) As Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls for its four parliamentary seats Wednesday, all eyes are on the Hamirpur and Mandi constituencies. While Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is contesting as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate in Hamirpur, the Congress has fielded former chief minister Virbhadra Singh in Mandi.

Five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, 74, is fighting a “survival battle” this time, while Dhumal’s prestige is at stake at Hamirpur after the Congress fielded Narinder Thakur, who had defected from the BJP.

Both the constituencies have witnessed more aggressive campaigning than for the Shimla (Scheduled Caste) and Kangra seats.

Popularly known as ‘Raja Saab’, Virbhadra Singh is seeking votes for himself in parliamentary elections after 29 years. This has generated a buzz among the voters.

In these elections, Virbhadra Singh has to re-establish his credentials as a charismatic leader as the party faced a humiliating defeat in the 2007 assembly elections at his helm. After losing power, Virbhadra Singh was almost marginalised in state politics.

Political observes feel the septuagenarian’s victory will not only help him survive in politics but also signal the resurgence of the Congress in the state.

He has been pitted against the BJP’s three-time MP Maheshwar Singh, who was defeated in the 2004 polls by Pratibha Singh, Virbhadra Singh’s wife, by 66,566 votes.

Interestingly, Mandi has mostly been a safe bet for descendants of royal families, who have won 10 times in 14 Lok Sabha elections.

This time also the battle is between two candidates from erstwhile princely families.

While Virbhadra Singh belongs to the former royal family of Bushehr, Maheshwar Singh is a scion of the erstwhile Kullu family.

The focus is also on Hamirpur, from where Dhumal’s son Anurag is seeking re-election. This seat is a traditional stronghold of the BJP. Anurag won the seat with a record margin of 180,000 votes in a by-lection in May last year.

Dhumal has been camping in the constituency to give a fitting reply to BJP rebel Narinder Thakur’s battle cry against dynastic politics.

Narinder Thakur never forgets to tell voters at rallies that 10 years back Dhumal’s family had assets worth only a few thousand rupees but now they possess assets worth several crores.

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

Kashyap has lost all the 10 elections he has fought in his three-decade-long political career. He unsuccessfully contested the Shimla parliamentary seat six times and from the Kasauli assembly constituency four times.

In the 2004 general elections, the Congress had won the Shimla, Kangra and Mandi parliamentary seats, while the BJP got the Hamirpur seat.

A total of 31 candidates are in the fray in the four constituencies.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have also fielded candidates, but so far they have apparently not been able to make their presence felt in state politics.

The Election Commission has set up 7,251 polling stations in the state to enable 4,604,832 voters to exercise their franchise. The highest number of voters - 1,199,820 - is in Kangra, followed by Hamirpur (1,187,704), Mandi (1,111,787) and Shimla (1,105,521).

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