Mandi has traditionally been a political battlefield of the royals. The parliamentary constituency is set to retain the ‘royal’ tag as the Congress seems keen on fielding sitting MP Pratibha Singh, wife of Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh — scion of the princely state of Bushahar.
Pratibha had won from Mandi in the 2013 byelection after the seat was vacated by Virbhadra, who brought the party back into power in the 2012 assembly elections and became the chief minister for the record sixth time. Though Pratibha is being seen as the party’s obvious choice from Mandi, Virbhadra is still keeping his cards close to his chest. “The party high command will take a decision on the ticket allocation,” is how Virbhadra replied recently when asked about Pratibha’s candidature.
In contrast, this is the only seat in the state from where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not yet finalised its candidate for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Former rural development minister Jai Ram Thakur, who had lost to Pratibha by a margin of 1.34 lakh votes in the byelection, is the frontrunner for the BJP ticket again. Jai Ram, however, is not interested in contesting the elections. He had also been reluctant to contest the 2013 byelection. Party insiders say that he doesn’t want to be labelled a loser.
The other names shortlisted by the party’s election committee include Manali MLA Govind Thakur, state party spokesperson Ajay Rana and vice-president Ramswaroop Sharma. Another name in the ticket race is that of Kargil hero Brig Kushal Thakur (retd).
Two-time MLA from Manali, Govind is the son of former minister Kunj Lal Thakur. Thanks to his father, he has a significant base in Kullu. The district might play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the election as the adjoining Mandi district could witness an equal division of votes.
Rana and Sharma are also among the aspirants, but the party is not keen on fielding either of the two as they don’t hold sway outside the respective constituency they belong to.
Riding on the Narendra Modi wave, the saffron party would also try to cash in on the growing resentment against the ruling party,
particularly in view of allegations of corruption against Pratibha and Virbhadra.
Banking on the rhetoric of nationalism by its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP may opt for Brig Thakur, who led the 18th Grenadiers during the Kargil conflict in 1999, and has also served in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka.
However, a faction of the party is opposed to his candidature as Brig Thakur is not yet a member of the party and doesn’t hold much sway among voters.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which has penetration in rural areas, has decided its candidate from Mandi. The CPM’s choice, Kushal Bhardwaj, who hails from Jogindernagar, is a former president of the Himachal Pradesh University Student Council.
The young leader has already hit the campaign trail. Though he hardly stands a chance of winning, he can make the ride bumpy for the Congress.