Seven-time MLA and the oldest candidate in fray, Congress veteran Vidya Stokes is pitched in a seven cornered contest in Theog constituency of Shimla in next month's Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh.
Stokes, the leader of opposition in Vidhan Sabha, is at the ripe age of 84 the oldest candidate in fray and contesting for the 10th time. She is facing her old rival and sitting MLA, Rakesh Verma (BJP) and nephew Rakesh Singha, a senior CPI(M) leader.
The veteran leader, who has all along been a strong contender for the post of the Chief Minister, was the natural rival of former chief minister and HPCC president V B Singh but this time she is getting his full support.
She was elected to the Vidhan Sabha for the first time in 1974 in a by-election caused by the sudden death of her husband, Lal Chand Stokes and won from this seat in 1982, 1985, 1990 and 1998 but lost in 1977 and 1993.
She changed her constituency to Kumarsein after the death of J B L Khachi in 2001 and won the election in 2003 and 2007.
However, her Kumarsein constituency was scrapped in delimitation and a major portion was added to Theog and left with no other option, she reverted back to Theog.
Though there are seven candidates in fray, the main contest is between Vidya Stokes, Rakesh Verma and Rakesh Singha. The TMC candidate Pramod Sharma, who contested twice against Stokes from Kumarsein and finished second, polling 37.92 per cent and 32.91 per cent votes in 2007 and 2003 respectively, is also in the race.
Her age and the support of V B Singh are proving to be an asset for her and the feeling that this may be her last election is generating sympathy for her.
However, her main rival Rakesh Singha (BJP) is also well entrenched in the constituency and had won in 1993 on BJP ticket and as an Independent in 2003 and 2007.
After delimitation, the present segment is a combination of Kumarsein and Theog, with highest number of 73,500 voters in the district.
Rakesh Verma was keen to contest from adjoining constituency of Chopal as Balsan area, his stronghold, has been shifted to Chopal but party decided to field him from Theog.
The adjoining constituency of Kumarsein, which has also undergone a major change in the delimitation process is witnessing a "Royal Battle" between two newcomers contesting for the first time.
The Congress candidate Aniruddh Singh, Rana of erstwhile Kyar Koti state is facing Congress rebel, Jyoti Sen from erstwhile royal family of Keonthal in a eight cornered contest with BJP candidate P L Thakur and BJP rebel and sitting MLA from Rohroo, contesting on HLP ticket are also being in the race.
Another candidate is Vijay Jyoti, who is sister-in-law of Pratibha Singh, wife of HPCC chief V B Singh.
Jyoti, who has support of large number of Congressmen, holds sway in Kusumti and Junga areas while Aniruddh Singh is banking on support from Koti and his own network.
The BJP candidate P L Thakur is also in trouble due to presence of Khushi Ram Balnatah while Kuldeep Singh Tanwar (CPI-M).
Tanwar, who resigned from Indian Forest Service two decades away was closely associated with Gyan-Vigyan Samiti also led the kheti bachao agitation and fought for rights of people in Kusumpti area, which was part of Shimla municipal Corporation.
The CPI (M), which won the post of Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Shimla Municipal Corporation in May this year, is hoping to spring a surprise in this constituency.
Kusumpti constituency with 59,121 voters has been deserved after 40 years and several leaders uprooted due to delimitation were eyeing this seat.
A large number of voters in this segment have migrated from Shimla as this was the main area developed by Shimla Development Authority and a large number of houses were constructed and offices sifted to new complex.