Voters' silence in the assembly elections has kept leaders and political pundits guessing about the outcome of the polls. While the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party anticipate a close call, with just 11 days are left for election results, independent candidates will meet at Chandigarh to decide their future course in case of a fractured mandate.
One-time lieutenant of chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, Nurpur legislator Rakesh Pathania, who contested the elections as an independent candidate, has taken the initiative to bring the formidable rebel candidates under one banner.
For the past one month, Pathania has been travelling across the state to individually meet the rebels from Congress and BJP who have fair chances of making it to the assembly.
Both the Congress and BJP have felt the heat of rebels in the elections. The BJP have faced the worst of rebellion in the state's most politically significantdistrict Kangra which comprises of 15 assembly segment.
The rebels who contested elections as independents have given a tough time to BJP candidates in Fatehpur, Jawali, Nurpur, Dharamsala, Kangra, Palampur, Baijnath, and Thural assembly segments. Even BJP's Kangra MP Rajan Shushant's spouse Sudha Shushant has contested the elections as an Independent candidate from Fatehpur.
The party convener for the industrial cell, Sanjay Guleria, has contested elections from Jawali, while Dharamsala Municipal Council president Kamla Patial contested the elections against industries minister Kishan Kapoor.
Manohar Dhiman, after being denied ticket, rebelled against the party and contested the elections as an independent from Indora. Other formidable rebels, capable of winning, are BJP's Sundernagar legislator Roop Singh and Rajender Rana who have contested elections from Sujanpur.
Pathania called on Kangra MP Rajan Shushant in New Delhi. There were four to five independent candidates at the meeting. The two leaders are said to have discussed the elections prospects, particular in the wake of the exit poll.
"There are reports that at least five to six candidates will make it to the assembly this time," said an independent candidate who accompanied Pathania to Shushant's house.
Being persuaded by both the Congress and BJP, the independents will meet in Chandigarh on December 11 to decide their future course.
Independent legislator Rakesh Pathania has also called up Maheshwar Singh, head of the Himachal Lokhith Party, formed by BJP's splinter group. "Yes, I have had conversation with Pathania. We will be meeting soon," Maheshwar Singh told Hindustan Times over telephone.
The HLP has contested elections on 36 seats. "The main objective behind uniting the rebels is to take collective decision on whom to support," says Rakesh Pathania, who was on his way to meet more rebel candidates.
Though Pathania sounds confident of bringing the rebels on a single platform, but there are many who are still vying their options. "Who knows what the results would be like? Nobody is sure about their victory. Then what's the fun in meeting when you don't know which party will emerge victorious," said a rebel candidate from Kangra.
Rebels are also in contact with three mainstream parties including Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamool Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.
In the case the rebels make it to the assembly in big way, there is strong possibility that they would collectively merge with a national party to emerge themselves as a third force for the general elections.
"We are in touch with major national parties. Let us see, how things shape up," said Pathania.
The BJP and Congress have been sending feelers to the rebels. Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on many occasion after the polls has gone on record saying that if needed the BJP could seek support from the rebels.
On the other hand, Congress president Virbhadra Singh's trouble shooters are already fanned out contacting the rebels. Congress has two potential rebels - one is Dharamveer Dhamai from Manali and the other Karnesh Jung from Poanta Sahib.