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Gaurav Bisht , Hindustan Times
Shimla, December 19, 2012
With exit polls predicting a photo finish, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are cajoling up with Independent candidates who have bright chances of making it to the assembly this time.
This time both the Congress and the BJP had faced widespread rebellion. Nearly two-dozen rebels, including some former ministers and legislators, had gone against the party's choice of candidates. Some of disgruntled leaders from the Congress and the BJP had joined other national political parties, such as Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamaool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, and Samajwadi Party. But those confident of their victory had gone alone.

The BJP had faced the worst rebellion in Kangra - the district with the most assembly seats, 15. Nurpur legislator Rakesh Pathania had contested elections as an Independent after party denied him ticket.  Former union minister Shanta Kumar had opposed ticket to Pathania-known as the "Hanuman" of chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. Not only this, Manohar Dhiman had rebelled against party and contested as an Independent from Indora.

While Kangra's Lok Sabha member Rajan Shushant's wife Sudha too contested election as an Independent from Fatehpur and party's convenor of the industrial cell Sanjay Guleria dented the prospect of BJP candidate from Jawali. In Kangra, sitting Zila Parishad member and party's young face Pawan Kajal gave a tough time to BJP MLA Sanjay Chaudhary, who last time had won on a BSP ticket and later joined the BJP.

In Jaisinghpur BJP's Ravi Dhiman had contested as an Independent candidate.  Asha Parihar of the BJP had rebelled in Arki. In Kinnaur former BJP legislator Chet Ram Negi quit the party at the last moment and contested elections on a Himachal Lokhit Party ticket. Rohru legislator Khushi Ram Balnatah had quit the BJP and contested elections from Kasumpti on a HLP ticket.

Rajender Raman, one-time close confidant of  chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, contested elections as an Independent from Sujanpur

The Congress, which hopes to regain power in the hill state, had faced rebellion in Paonta Sahib with Karnesh Jung poised to given a tough contest to both Congress and BJP candidates.  In Manali, Dharamveer Dhami is likely to play a spoilsport for the Congress nominee Bhubneshwar Gaur. In Kullu, Prem Lata Thakur, wife of former horticulture minister Satparkash Thakur,  contested election as an Independent.  In Kasumpti, Vijay Jyoti Sen, a close relative of the HPCC president Virbhadra Singh, rebelled against the party.  Former minister OP Rattan had contested election on a Trinamool Congress ticket.

As the post-poll surveys predict a close finish, Independents and rebels have gained prominence. Nurpur legislator Rakesh Pathania had taken an initiative to bring independent candidates on a single platform. Pathania had attempted to form a forum of rebels so that they could bargain with political parties, but his attempts appears to have gain little success.  Two day back, Pathania had met chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal at his official residence Oakover.  "I had met Dhumaljee at his resident but I did not pledge my support to him. All options are open," said Pathania. While another Independent, Pawan Kajal, says, "Nothing can be said about the support. Let the result be out."

On the other hand, HLP chief Maheshwar Singh is wary about the poll surveys. "There's a multi-cornered contest  in majority of the seats.  So it's difficult to predict which party gains majority,"

Independents have always played a crucial role in the elections. Of the 147 independents who fought the elections in 1967, 16 won and their vote share was polling 38.10%. In 1972, 148 Independents were in the fray of which seven got elected to the assembly with a vote share of 28.27%.

Highest number of 205 independents were in the fray in 1982 and six were elected, polling 14.23% votes. In 2007,  three independents out of 60 made it to the assembly, polling 7.97% votes.