With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, all eyes are on the Congress Central Election Committee (CEC), scheduled to meet in New Delhi on February 17. The committee could possibly clear the names shortlisted by the party's state unit for the polls.
The party's CEC, comprising senior party leaders, is expected to discuss the names of prospective candidates.
Sources have told Hindustan Times that the CEC could clear names of candidates for Shimla, Mandi and Kangra parliamentary seats. While the number of contenders is less in the three parliamentary segments, the party is walking a tightrope to select candidates for the Hamirpur seat, which, being the Bharatiya Janata Party's stronghold, is the focus of the ruling party this time.
The party marked the completion of one year of its regime by holding a major rally in leader of opposition and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's stronghold.
However, the Congress has not been able to win the Hamirpur seat for the last 16 years.
The party leaders, including chief minister Virbhadra Singh and state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, are divided over the names that have been shortlisted for Hamirpur.
While the party had listed the name of independent legislator Rajinder Rana, there is a growing feeling among the party leaders that industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri is the party's "strongest bet" against sitting Lok Sabha member Anurag Thakur.
A section of party leaders is "vehemently" against giving a ticket to Rana, and while journalist-turned-politician Agnihotri is reluctant to enter the poll arena, the CM has been promoting Rana.
Some leaders are of the opinion that giving a ticket to Rana, who, in the past, was a "very close confidant" of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, will demoralise the party's rank and file.
Rana's name had also figured in the Congress' chargesheet against the BJP, and his opponents allege that his selection would "go against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's ideology to give preference to grassroots workers".
Gagret legislator Rakesh Kalia, who had quit the post of chief parliamentary secretary (CPS), is also been seen as a "formidable candidate", who can take on Dhumal junior.
Three-time legislator Kalia is also the All-India Congress Committee secretary and was co-in charge for party affairs in Madhya Pradesh.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh is the lone candidate from Mandi. Pratibha had defeated Jairam Thakur in the by-election to the Lok Sabha after Virbhadra had resigned from the Lok Sabha to take over the reins of the state.
From Kangra, former Lok Sabha member Chander Kumar and transport minister GS Bali's son Raghuvir Singh are vying for the ticket.
From Shimla, the party had forwarded the name of Rohru legislator Mohan Lal Brakta and Congress leader Vinod Sultanpuri for the parliamentary seat reserved for scheduled castes.
Vinod Sultanpuri, also the party's state general secretary, is the son of KD Sultanpuri, who was a parliamentarian six times.
Virbhadra is backing the candidature of Mohan Lal Brakta, who had won the assembly election with a lead of more than 25,000 votes.