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HindustanTimes Wed,16 Apr 2014

Virbhadra, Raja of Cong campaign, unnerves BJP

Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times  Kangra, October 31, 2012
First Published: 23:30 IST(31/10/2012) | Last Updated: 02:02 IST(1/11/2012)

It is clear now that the Himachal Pradesh elections are essentially a contest between the BJP and five-time former CM Virbhadra Singh who is spearheading the Congress campaign.

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The polling for the 68 seats will be held on Sunday.

The BJP has directed its entire election strategy to contain Virbhadra and despite serious allegations being made against him, the “Raja” remains unaffected.

In fact, he has carried the battle back into the BJP camp by focusing on the growing unemployment in the state and “non-performance of the Prem Kumar Dhumal government”.

The impression is that the two sides are more or less evenly matched in the 15 seats in Kangra, with the Congress enjoying a slight edge in one or two seats.

It is very important for the two sides to get as many seats as possible from the region as this could have a bearing on the final outcome.

The major factor impacting the Congress is price rise, for which residents of Kangra and adjoining areas hold the party responsible.

In addition, the overall negative perception against the UPA government at the Centre and the party could also influence voters.

Allegations of corruption against Virbhadra have not cut much ice.

The situation is like years ago when, despite being accused of wrongdoings by his detractors, former communications minister Sukhram was seen in Mandi as a messiah for putting Himachal in the number one spot in the telephone connectivity chart.

The problem before the Congress is that Virbhadra is in great demand but can physically cover only 52 or 53 constituencies in the little time he has had for the campaign.

A lot of time was wasted in allotment of tickets and campaigning could begin in right earnest only after October 12.

Though both Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have addressed rallies, the former CM is making sure that the BJP does not get away with its propaganda against him.

However, it is to the credit of Dhumal that he has made inroads into areas considered to be Congress strongholds.

This is best illustrated by the situation in Kullu, Solan and Sirmaur. Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is also assisting him and the two have placed their party in a comfortable position in Hamirpur, Bilaspur and Una.

But, the controversy surrounding BJP chief Nitin Gadkari has diluted the party’s campaign against corruption and the visit of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi failed to have any impact.

Former chief minister Shanta Kumar’s reluctance to actively campaign is also not a favourable aspect for the party.

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