All eyes are on Shahpur seat this time because Vijai Singh Mankotia is back to his hometurf and his political future is at stake.
Mankotia faces a tough challenge from BJP nominee and sitting MLA Sarveen Chaudhary, who is toiling hard to save her prestige for she is the only woman cabinet minister in the Dhumal government. Both are facing each other for the fourth time. Mankotia had defeated Sarveen twice and lost one election to her.
The constituency has remained a fortress of Mankotia since 1982 when he won his first election as an Independent by a considerable margin. Despite getting the tag of 'turncoat', Mankotia always got support of masses in this segment no matter which party he represented. After winning his first election as an independent, Mankotia got mandate as a Congress candidate, then won the seat on a Janta Dal ticket and again returned to Congress and won.
It was BJP's Sarveen Chaudhary who breached into his bastion in 1998. But in very next election in 2003 he was back with a bang. It was during this tenure that Mankotia fell away with the then chief minister, Virbhadra Singh, after the latter dropped him from the cabinet. Mankotia later released an audio CD against Virbhadra and resigned from the party.
Before 2007 assembly elections, Mankotia joined Bahujan Samajh Party (BSP) and choose to contest from Dharamsala but lost. Two years ago, Mankotia announced his retirement from the electoral politics. But everybody was taken by surprise as just after the announcement of elections, Mankotia patched up with Virbhadra against whom he was spewing venom all these years.
His detractors were stunned as Mankotia not only shook hands with Virbhadra but also returned with the Congress ticket from Shahpur. Mankotia had a tough time explaining how and what was agreed upon between the two leaders.
Both Singh and Mankotia said the agreement was in the larger interest of the party and it will reconsolidate Congress in the segment.
However, the present election will not be as easy for Mankotia, who was not in the public life for the last five years. The political observers say his opponents in the party will never want him to win.
Dressed in his trademark white, Mankotia is moving door to door across the length and breadth of his constituency, urging voters to support him saying, "I had retired but I am back for you people."
The soft spoken leader, who was campaigning in the interior Kareri village in the foothills of Dhauladhar ranges, said he had made a very firm resolution not to participate in active politics but the plight of the people of Shahpur made him to change his decision.
"Despite the fact that their MLA was a cabinet minister, the people here were very frustrated and scores of them used approach me with a request to come back," said Mankotia, adding he had put Shahpur on the development track but the BJP government and the sitting MLA had undone that.
"There was no voice to highlight the problems of people during the five-year rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party government," said Mankotia.
Addressing a public meeting in Kareri, Mankotia said in local dialect, "Tusa bada bhari sahi leya par mein aayi gaya wapis tuhde khatar (You have suffered a lot in past five years but now I am back for you)."
BJP nominee Sarveen Chaudhary, who travels in her Mahindra Xylo, was see holding meetings with workers, claiming that she had provided basic facilities in rural areas.
"I had concentrated on providing basic amenities to the rural population in my constituency. Even Congress workers are saying this," claimed Chaudhary, adding that linking villages with roads was her biggest achievement.
Known for her trademark hairstyle, Chaudhary said she didn't care who her opponent was and just focused on her own work. "I never comment on my opponent whether he is strong or weak. I only say something when it is needed. People here know what I had done for them and I am concerned about their welfare," said Chaudhary.
Both the candidates are banking upon the votes of the castes they belong to. While Mankotia belongs to the Rajput community, Chaudhary is from the OBC. Both the communities have almost equal votes in the constituency. Rajputs seem to have embraced Mankotia again, while OBC votes are Chaudhary's strength.
TOTAL VOTES: 72,475
Last assembly elections
Winner: Sarveen Chaudhary
Victory Margin: 9,031
Issues: No big project has come to the segment in the last five years
X- Factor: Mankotia has won four consecutive elections from this constituency. But, Sarveen was the first one to breach his citadel.