Politics is the game of equations. What seems to be easy today becomes a tightrope walk tomorrow as the overnight shift in the balance can mar any candidate's prospects. Same is the situation in Dharamsala, where the race to Vidhan Sabha earlier seemed to be a cakewalk for sitting MLA and BJP nominee, Kishan Kapoor, but a rebel's surprise entry in the poll fray turned the contest from bipolar to triangular.
Now Kapoor is caught in a situation that the Congress faced in the 2007 assembly polls when a rebel, Vijai Singh Mankotia, contested on BSP ticket and became the reason for the party's defeat.
In last assembly polls, Kapoor won by a substantial margin of 7,654 as Mankotia had cut into the vote bank of the Congress. Mankotia polled over 11,000 votes, just a thousand less than Congress nominee Chandresh Kumari.
This constituency is considered as the fortress of the BJP as the Congress had failed to perform in the segment in most of the elections. Kapoor won from the seat for first time in 1990 by a huge margin of over 13,000 votes and went to win next election also. In 2003, he lost to Chandresh Kumari, but in the next election divided Congress votes helped him to make it to the assembly.
This time, Kapoor is pitted against the Congress nominee, a young face and Baijnath MLA, Sudhir Sharma, while a rebel, Dharmasala municipal council president Kamla Patial is set to tilt the political scales.
In the beginning, Kapoor had a good time as the Congress, after declaring Sharma its official nominee, made a surprise change the very next day and named a lightweight Gaddi leader, Manoj Kumar. The confusion prevailed for over four days and finally after much deliberation in the power corridors of the party in Delhi, Sharma was finally fielded from Dharamsala.
This four-day confusion hampered the Congress poll campaign. While no other prominent contestant was in the poll fray, later Patial made a surprise entry into poll fray and changed the equation. On the other hand, after initial hiccups, Sharma's campaign picked up and the contest will be neck-to-neck.
The constituency has a considerable tribal Gaddi vote bank, which has been with Kapoor since long. Kamla, who also belongs to the Gaddi community is the daughter of former BJP MLA from Dharamsala, Brij Lal. She can definitely attract Gaddi votes. However, poll analysts are of the view that Sharma will also bear the brunt as the urban voters who are against Kapoor could go in favour of Patial. "The Dharamsala town has never been a vote bank of Kapoor so here she will eat into Congress votes, making it tough for Sharma also who is being dubbed as an outsider," said a poll analyst.
However, Kapoor is quite confident that the people of Dharamsala would send him to Vidhan Sabha for the fourth time.
Kapoor who was busy in his door-to-door poll campaign in the heart of the town said development was his main poll plank. "I have been working for the people of Dharamsala since 1985. A lot of development has been carried out in my regime and that will help me make it to the Vidhan Sabha," said Kapoor.
He said the candidate pitted against him was an outsider and that's also an issue. "People of Dharamsala know what this person can do in Dharamsala when he was a failure in Baijnath, the constituency he represented twice. On dissidents, Kapoor said he does not want to talk about those who were not members of the party.
On the other hand, Sharma who was carrying his campaign in the rural areas of segment said it was hard to believe that Dharamsala was the constituency of a cabinet minister. "Dharamsala is considered to be second capital of the state but once you visit it you see lack of development. Roads are in dilapidated condition while tourism promotion is only on paper," said Sharma, adding that his main thrust will be on developing infrastructure for tourism promotion and bringing transparency in the administration.
Addressing a small public meeting in a village, Sharma countered the outsider propaganda being carried out his opponents by stating that if anyone starts digging the history, the roots of people who were terming him outsider may originally belong to some other place.
"They have no achievement to talk about and are targeting me. I am not from a far-off place. I belong to Kangra district and have served Baijnath constituency after my father," said Sharma.
Total votes: 63,776
Last assembly election
Winner: Kishan Kapoor
Deciding issues: Lack of development in Dharamsala town; bad road condition in segment
X-factor: Congress has never fielded a Gaddi candidate from segment, which is dominated by the voters of the tribal community.