Even as opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is still indecisive over its candidate for the Mandi parliamentary seat, the party's parliamentary board, which is scheduled to meet at New Delhi on February 27, will take the final call on the candidates for the state's four Lok Sabha seats. The party has already shortlisted candidates for Kangra, Shimla and Hamirpur.
From Kangra, former union minister Shanta Kumar has emerged as the party's obvious choice, even though the veteran leader had earlier announced his intentions to stay away from electoral politics. Having remained the chief minister twice, Kumar had won from Kangra in 1989, 1998 and 1999. In 1996, he lost to Congress's Sat Mahajan, and to Congress' Chander Kumar in 2004.
Shanta Kumar had not been active in politics after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2008. Kumar, who was the union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government, had to quit his ministerial berth for his remarks post-Godhra riots in Gujarat.
In Hamirpur, the party is again relying on sitting Lok Sabha member Anurag Thakur, the national head of the party's youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). Thakur has been in the thick of controversy ever since the Virbhadra Singh-led government got registered cases against him for land purchase in Dharamsala, and for cheating against the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association for converting the sports association into a company.
BJP's first-time Lok Sabha member Virender Kashyap is the lone choice for the Shimla parliamentary seat.
However, the party is still in a quandary over the candidate from the Mandi seat. Former rural development minister Jai Ram Thakur, who unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha bypolls against chief minister Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh, is "not very keen" on re-entering the poll arena. The legislator from Seraj in Mandi is unwilling, in spite of a section of party leaders strongly endorsing his candidature.
The name of two-time legislator Govind Thakur is also doing the rounds. Govind, currently a legislator from Manali, is being seen as the alternate to Jai Ram Thakur, with other names including Brig Kushal Singh Thakur (retd), who led the 18th Grenadiers during the Kargil conflict. The party's state election committee, which had recently met in Chandigarh, had deliberated on Kushal Thakur's prospects.
Other probable candidates include party vice-president Ram Swaroop Sharma and spokesman Ajay Rana.
"The party's parliamentary board will take the final call on February 27 in New Delhi," state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti confirmed to HT.
Apart from former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, state party chief Satti and the party's organisational secretary would participate in the meeting. Buoyant over the success of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's 'parivartan' rally at Sujanpur Tihra in Hamirpur, the party is planning more rallies in the state, to be addressed by its other national leaders, including Arun Jaitely, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari.
The party has planned rallies in Chamba, Kullu, Sirmour and Shimla districts. "In the wake of heavy snowfall in the upper reaches in various districts, many people could not attend the Sujanpur rally, so there are plans to hold more rallies in these areas," said Satti.