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In own backyard, Congress indecisive on its candidate

punjab Updated: Feb 27, 2014 23:46 IST
Gaurav Bisht

Comprising 17 assembly segments of Shimla, Solan and Sirmour districts, Shimla parliamentary constituency — the epicentre of Himachal politics — has remained a steadfast stronghold of the Congress. Loyalty for the party has run deep among generations for decades. Of the 12 elections since 1971, the Congress has won as many as nine.

After six straight wins, the Congress lost the Shimla seat in 1999 when Dhani Ram Shandil of the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), headed by former union telecom minister Sukh Ram and supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stormed its bastion. Shandil later joined the Congress and retained the seat on the party ticket in 2004.

While the BJP, which won the seat for the first time in 2009, has reposed faith in sitting MP Virender Kashyap, it has been become an uphill task for the Congress to find a strong candidate.

Kashyap, who was earlier dubbed as a serial loser, had defeated Congress’ Shandil by an overwhelming margin of more than 2 lakh votes.

With Shandil now a cabinet minister in the Virbhadra Singh-led state government, there are two ticket contenders from the Congress. Initially, Shandil’s name was under consideration, but the Congress is seemingly betting on first-time Rohru MLA Mohan Lal Brakta. Congress general secretary Vinod Sultanpuri is also in the fray. He is the son of KD Sultanpuri, who had won six consecutive Lok Sabha elections from the Shimla seat.

Enjoying Virbhadra’s backing, Brakta is in a strong position against Vinod Sultanpuri. The latter had lost in the 2012 assembly elections from Kasauli constituency by a wafer-thin margin of 24 votes.

The only hope for Sultanpuri is that he could find favour with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is keen to field young candidates. He is also supported by the anti-Virbhadra faction.

While the Congress is still groping in dark over the choice of its candidates, BJP’s Virender Kashyap has already starting touring the constituency.

Voting for ruling party since 1991
The Congress is banking on the fact that since 1991, the Shimla electorate has voted for the party ruling the state, while BJP is hoping that the Narendra Modi wave would turn the tide in its favour.

Another factor that gives the BJP an edge is that Sirmour district, which remained a Congress stronghold till 2009, has broken away from tradition. Kashyap had drawn a huge lead from the district in the 2009 elections.

Sirmour continued with the new trend in the 2012 assembly elections, when the BJP managed to win three seats from the district.

If pitted against Kashyap, Sultanpuri could make the ride bumpy for the MP as both hail from the same region and Kashyap’s performance as an MP has not been up to the mark.

Shimla district comprises a major portion of this constituency, with seven assembly segments, excluding Rampur, the only thing in the Congress’ favour. With Virbhadra holding sway in the region, the Congress won six of these seats in the 2012 assembly polls.