All-India Congress Committee (AICC) president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday put her stamp of approval on chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh as the candidate for the Mandi bypoll.
Sonia’s decision came after AICC general secretary Birender Singh forwarded Pratibha’s name to the party high command for her approval.
The state election committee that met under the chairmanship of state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had left the decision on Sonia.
Besides Pratibha, the state election committee had also forwarded the name of Rakesh Dharwal, a youth leader from Sundernagar.
“Pratibha’s name was cleared on Monday night after Sonia’s consent in Delhi,” Sukhu said.
“Mandi is the traditional seat of the Congress committee. This time too we will win with an impressive margin,” he said, adding that election duties of leaders would be announced shortly.
Singh, who had been camping in Delhi, returned to the state capital, while Pratibha Singh left for Mandi.
Virbhadra had been camping in Delhi for the past two days along with a battery of his loyalists - industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri and forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri.
The CM urged the central leaders that the candidate should be announced well in time as the BJP had already started campaigning.
Besides, Virbhadra lobbied hard for return of Congress rebels, who were thrown out from the party during the Vidhan Sabha elections.
Singh’s supporter Dharamveer Dhami had contested as Independent from Manali, while former legislator Ishwar Dass after being denied the ticket rebelled in Ani Vidhan Sabha seat.
Prem Lata Thakur, wife of former horticulture minister Satya Parkash Thakur, contested as Independent from Kullu.
Pratibha had earlier represented Mandi constituency by winning the parliament elections in 2004. She had defeated Kullu’s royal scion Maheshwar Singh.
However, she had lost the elections in 1998 to BJP’s Maheshwar Singh by a margin of more than 1 lakh votes.
This time stakes are high for the ruling Congress that will try to retain the seat vacated by the chief minister.
Further any loss will clearly will reflect on chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s popularity.
Pratibha will face Jairam Thakur, whose political career started from student politics. Jairam is considered as organisation man and has been architect of the BJP’s win in 2007, when he was the party president. Jairam enjoys immense support among the youth.
Jairam had remained a minister in the Prem Kumar Dhumal led-BJP government.
Sources said the state intelligence had projected the victory of Pratibha with over 1 lakh votes. Mandi parliamentary constituency is the second biggest constituency in terms of area, after Rajasthan’s Barmer parliamentary constituency.