Kangra, the land of the world’s oldest existing royal dynasty — the Katoch clan — has always remained an interesting battlefield. Kangra parliamentary constituency, which also includes Chamba district, has the distinction of tilting the scales of Himachal politics.
Leaving no stone unturned to bag the maximum number of seats from the hill state in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is clear about its choice from Kangra — veteran leader Shanta Kumar — while squabbling within the Congress has delayed its decision on the candidate.
Initially, when Shanta was reluctant to contest the elections, the names of other BJP leaders, including Shahpur MLA Sarveen Chaudhary, her husband Brig Pawan Chaudhary (retd) and Gaddi leader Trilok Kapoor had done the rounds. However, the saffron party was well aware that these leaders don’t hold sway and could not be a match for the Congress, considering that the Kangra electorate mostly votes for the party ruling the state.
The top brass of the party persuaded Shanta and he finally agreed, given the party’s chance of forming the government at the Centre owing to the anti-Congress sentiment across the country. Shanta had announced his retirement from electoral politics more than two years ago.
For the Congress, which is already plagued by factionalism, selection of the candidate remains an uphill task. Raghubir Bali, son of state transport minister GS Bali, is hoping to get the ticket from the youth quota, while chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his camp are backing the candidature of stalwart OBC (other backward classes) leader and former MP Chaudhary Chander Kumar. A former minister, Chander Kumar had defeated Shanta Kumar in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The anti-Virbhadra camp is strongly opposed to his candidature, for obvious reasons.
The third Congress contender is retired session judge Suresh Kumar Chaudhary, son of late BJP leader and former Vidhan Sabha speaker Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar. Earlier, Dalhousie MLA Asha Kumari and Major Vijay Singh Mankotia were also in the ticket race. However, the screening committee shortlisted Bali junior, Chander Kumar and Suresh Kumar. The three names have been forwarded to the party’s Central Election Committee for the final decision.
The inexperienced Raghubir Bali barely stands a chance against Shanta Kumar despite the support of the anti-Virbhadra group. Also, the party seems in no mood to take any risk in view of the anti-Congress wave at the national level. In case Chander Kumar’s candidature is rejected, the Virbhadra camp may push for Suresh Kumar. The unprecedented delay in projecting a candidate has not only given other prominent leaders the opportunity to throw their hat in the ring but also to the opposition BJP to consolidate its position.
The twist in the tale is that union cultural minister Chandresh Kumari, who had shifted her base to Jodhpur (Rajasthan), is also interested in contesting from Kangra. Sources said she was using her clout in Delhi to get the ticket. She had earlier represented the constituency in 1984. Chandresh’s recent statement that she would contest from wherever the party wants her to is being seen as an indication that she could emerge as a surprise choice as the anti-Virbhadra camp is likely to support her.
In the meantime, the BJP has carried out its damage-control exercise by re-inducting rebels — the factor that scuttled the saffron party’s Mission Repeat in the 2012 assembly elections. Shanta has already started his poll campaign. Meanwhile, sitting Kangra MP Rajan Sushant, who recently resigned from the BJP, is vying for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket. He may also contest as an Independent and eat into the votes of the Congress or the BJP.