In Himachal’s Mandi parliamentary constituency — the largest in the state, covering the entire tribal belt — the fight is between the Congress’s Virbhadra Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) record of governance.
By returning to parliamentary elections after 29 years and replacing his wife and sitting MP Pratibha Singh, former Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh has made a political statement and upset all calculations.
BJP candidate Maheshwar Singh has to resort to the benefits of his party being in power in the state, plus the 11 sitting MLAs in the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency.
For the five-time chief minister and four-time MP, Virbhadra Singh, a victory will restore his political supremacy in the state Congress — something he he lost after the Congress defeat in the 2007 assembly polls.
This time, Virbhadra Singh, a descendant of the erstwhile rulers of Rampur Bushahr, is banking on a team of personal loyalists. He has already addressed over 500 rallies that started in the middle of March.
The focal point of the Congress’ campaign strategy is that the United Progressive Alliance will come to power in the Centre and Virbhadra will become a minister.
Singh — as part of his campaign strategy — has, however, set his sight on BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his alleged links with the underworld in Himachal. And he is depending more on his own personal charm than on his party’s performance.
But adding to his worry over Pratibha Singh’s indifferent performance is the silence of former Union minister Sukh Ram, who has tremendous hold over the voters in Mandi. Ram is now busy in fighting corruption cases in Delhi.
Singh, however, managed to highlight Sukh Ram’s son and Mandi MLA, Anil Sharma in his campaign. “Sukh Ramji has called up all his men in Mandi to support me,” Singh said.
BJP candidate Maheshwar Singh began his journey with stiff opposition from his home district, Kullu. But later, he could manage his detractors, including Manali MLA Gobind Thakur and Banjar MLA Khimi Ram, who made peace with him in public.
His younger brother and former BJP minister Karan Singh, who recently joined the Congress, is another irritant for him. Maheshwar’s main plank is the BJP’s one-and-a-half-year performance and Pratibha Singh’s non-performance. For that, he said, Virbhadra would have to pay the price.
“Last time, there was a Congress government in Himachal, and people voted for Pratibha at the instance of chief minister Virbhadra. But they never bothered about the voters once they got elected,” he alleged.
Also, considering Sukh Ram influence in Mandi, Maheshwar tried to cash in on the Virbhadra-Sukh Ram rift. He praised Sukh Ram in public for his achievements in the telecom sector and, at the same time, talked about how he was “harassed” by Virbhadra after he was accused in the telecom scam 13 years ago.