Nestled in the Himachal foothills, Pathankot witnessed rare snowfall recently, leaving people guessing about the hows and whys. On the political turf, too, it is anybody's guess who will win the assembly seat.
In this new district, the BJP as well as the Congress have changed their candidates from 2007. The BJP's Punjab unit chief Ashwani Sharma, a first-timer, is facing Congress nominee and former MLA Raman Bhalla. Congress rebel and ex-MLA Ashok Sharma is contesting as an Independent after being denied the Congress ticket.
The weather is chilly and rainy, but with D-day fast approaching, no candidate can afford to stay indoors. Wrapped in a shawl, Ashwani Sharma moves in an Innova amid the downpour. The vehicle stops in Indira Colony, which is close to his residence, and he alights to address a meeting in a house.
In a room jampacked with his supporters, Ashwani Sharma begins his speech like this, "Even though this is my first election, I have already devoted decades to the party."
Then, he takes out his trump card. "It was the BJP that got district status for Pathankot. Earlier, we had to go to Gurdaspur for official work. Vote for the SAD-BJP combine so that we can establish the entire set-up here," he says.
Desisting from targeting his opponents, he asserts, "The SAD-BJP government has a very good report card and I don't need to comment on my rivals."
About the BJP's poll prospects under his leadership, he claims, "The party has made gains on the development plank. We are confident of a good result."
On the BJP's decision to give him the ticket at the cost of former cabinet minister and sitting MLA Master Mohan Lal, he says, "It is the party's decision. Master Mohan Lal has assured me of support and I will learn a lot from his political experience."
Meanwhile, having a much-needed cup of tea in his Toyota Fortuner, Congress candidate Raman Bhalla says, "The SAD-BJP alliance has nothing substantial to show. This area has been ignored and it continues to have inadequate infrastructure."
Getting off the stage after a speech, Bhalla tells HT, "My poll plank is development. Grant of district status has not solved Pathankot's problems. I would focus on providing more employment opportunities for the youth and get a package that will encourage the industry to come here instead of going to the neighbouring hill state."
On infighting in the Congress and the presence of a rebel candidate, Bhalla says nonchalantly, "There is infighting in every party. The party has given me the ticket and every Congress worker must abide by the decision."
Bhalla won the 1992 assembly polls, but lost in 1997. He failed to get the ticket in the 2002 and 2007 elections. Now, the party has again reposed faith in him.
Ashok Sharma, who has been expelled by the Congress, says, "Apart from overall development, my priority is to remove corruption, especially in politics."
"During my tenure as MLA from 2002 to 2007, I worked for getting four new roads. I will work with NGOs for the city's development and come up with a master plan," adds Ashok Sharma, who has hired an Innova for door-to-door campaigning.