With the Election Commission announcing that the byelection to the Sujanpur assembly segment would be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls on May 7, state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh on Tuesday constituted a committee comprising three senior ministers to select the party candidate.
The committee, headed by irrigation and public health minister Vidya Stokes and comprising health minister Kaul Singh Thakur and transport minister GS Bali, has been asked to submit its report by April 4. Chief minister Virbhadra Singh and Sukhu will deliberate on the probables on April 5.
“The three-member committee will shortlist the candidates for the Sujanpur seat,” Sukhu told HT, adding that applications will be allowed till April 3.
The Sujanpur seat fell vacant after independent legislator Rajinder Rana quit the Vidhan Sabha to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the Hamirpur parliamentary seat on the Congress ticket.
The EC’s decision to hold simultaneous elections in Sujanpur added to the woes of the Congress, which is now struggling to find a suitable candidate who has a good connection with the electorate of the constituency and a strong standing against the rival candidates, as the seat is the stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Sujanpur assembly segment was carved out during the delimitation exercise and comprises 14 panchayats which earlier formed Dhumal’s traditional Bamson seat.
The Congress performance in Sujanpur was dismal in the previous assembly elections, with Rana, a close aide of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, defeating his nearest rival Congress candidate Anita Verma by more than 14,000 votes.
Scouting for candidates has become more difficult for the Congress since it does not have a winnable face in the Sujanpur seat. Verma, former All-India Mahil Congress chief, has lost two consecutive elections, one from Sujanpur and the other from Hamirpur.
Political dimensions have changed drastically in Sujanpur this time as Narender Thakur, son of former BJP stalwart Jagdev Chand quit the party and returned to the BJP fold, leaving the Congress red-faced. Narender, who is also the brother in-law of former BJP legislator Urmil Thakur, had contested the Lok Sabha elections against Anurag Thakur and faced Dhumal in the assembly elections.
With, BJP contemplating the names of Narender and his sister-n-law Urmil, the Congress now has to look for a credible face. The name of the Congress district chief is already doing the rounds, while party’s district secretary Arun Thakur is also seen as a contender.
Sukhu’s blue-eyed boy Sunil Sharma Bittu, state Congress secretary, could also stake his claim for the ticket from Sujanpur. However, he does not hail from Sujanpur, which may go against him.