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Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, October 11, 2012
As the campaign heats up in Himachal Pradesh ahead of the November 4 polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will address a public meeting at Mandi on Monday.
With 10 assembly seats, Mandi is the second largest district after Kangra which has 15 segments. The region is part of old Himachal which is considered a traditional Congress bastion. Mandi was the only parliamentary constituency out of the total four that the party won in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

It is at present represented by state chief and former Union minister Virbhadra Singh.

Sources said Gandhi will address four election meetings in all while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi are also expected to hit the campaign trail soon.

The party has lamented the paucity of campaign time with the state unit chief expressing resentment over election commission's decision to conduct elections in a rush, saying the panel had done “injustice” to them by giving only a month's time.

Apart from candidates' selection, Singh has been given a free hand in deciding about the campaign programme of the top leadership, a senior central leader said.

The party has already short-listed its talking points for the campaign and is also in the process of finalising its manifesto.  The party is going to raise the controversial decisions of the BJP government which include relaxation in rules to allow the outsiders to purchase land on a large-scale in the hill state and allowing private universities to flourish.

But at the ground level, the party feels that the UPA government economic reforms such as hike in diesel prices and putting a cap on LPG cylinders have negated the anti-incumbency factor against the Prem Kumar Dhumal government. “A fight which could have easily been one sided is neck-and-neck now,” said a state leader.