Even as the Congress Central Election Committee (CEC) is expected to meet in New Delhi on Friday to take a final decision on its candidates for the four parliamentary seats in Himachal Pradesh, chief minister Virbhadra Singh on Thursday backed the candidature of independent legislator Rajinder Rana from Hamirpur.
The independent MLA from Sujanpur is an associate member of the Congress party. However, state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhoo is opposed to the party allotting him a ticket and demanded it be given only to a "genuine" Congress worker.
The CM's camp sees Rana, once a close associate of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, as the party's best bet to run against sitting parliamentarian Anurag Thakur. Singh has been maintaining that as Rana was earlier Dhumal's political strategist he was aware of the BJP leader's weaknesses and strengths.
"I will favour the person who has the ability to win. Rana is not an outsider as he is an associate member of the party," the CM said here on Thursday.
Industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri is commonly seen as the most formidable contender from Hamirpur, but the young leader appears to be reluctant to enter the poll fray. Virbhadra had written a letter to the Congress leadership that Agnihotri "can't be spared from his cabinet to contest the parliamentary elections".
Another possible contender, chief parliamentary secretary Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, is also unwilling to enter the poll fray.
Royal battle in Kangra
"We have discussed many names. It's now up to the CEC to decide on the ticket," said the CM, giving a guarded reply to a question regarding his choice of candidate from the politically-sensitive Kangra constituency.
"According to their names, Chander Kumar and Chandresh Kumari have the same rashi (zodiac sign), so either of them can get the ticket," the CM added.
While Kumar is a former MP, sitting Lok Sabha member from Jodhpur Chandresh Kumari, who is married into the royal family of Kangra, has earlier served as a minister in the central cabinet and a Rajya Sabha legislator. After losing the previous assembly elections, Chandresh contested from her maternal seat Jodhpur and was later elevated as union minister for culture.
Sukhoo, Virbhadra lock horns over Shimla
Virbhadra's wife Pratibha Singh, who is a sitting Lok Sabha member from Mandi, is eyeing the ticket for the same seat.
Virbhadra and Sukhoo have so far failed to agree on the selection of a candidate from the Shimla parliamentary segment. While Rohru legislator Mohan Lal Brakta is the CM's choice, Sukhoo is backing Vinod Sultanpuri, son of six-time MP KD Sultanpuri.
"Let's see what the CEC decides tomorrow," Sukhoo said.