With election campaigning heating up for upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Congress candidate from politically significant Kangra parliamentary constituency Chander Kumar is holding fort alone against the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) fierce canvassing, even as three ministers remain conspicuous by their absence.
Pitted against BJP veteran and former chief minister Shanta Kumar, the former MP has yet not seen prominent Congress leaders, particularly the minister in state cabinet, turning up in the meetings.
The three ministers in Virbhadra-led government are transport minister GS Bali, urban development minister Sudhir Sharma and agriculture minister Sujan Singh Pathania. Congress had launched the election campaign with All India Congress Committee (AICC) vice-president Rahul Gandhi's Dharamsala rally on March 20 - the only event when the three ministers were spotted together.
Since then, Chander has been campaigning with only the block-level officer accompanying him, while the three ministers are secretively keeping low. They have not even held any meeting of party workers independently in their constituencies. While Bali's absence was inevitable, it is Sudhir's absence that is perplexing poll analysts.
“Bali's son RS Bali was in race for ticket from Kangra constituency. The minister is also not in good terms with chief minister Virbhadra Singh who backed Chander's candidature,” say analysts.
On the other hand, there had always been a power struggle between Sujan Singh Pathania and Chander Kumar in Kangra, hence they never shared good relations in their political career.
“What is more dubious is absence of Sudhir Sharma - a trusted lieutenant of Virbhadra,” added the poll analysts.
However, some opined that the government's as well as chief minister's focus is entirely on Mandi parliamentary constituency from where his wife and sitting MP Pratibha Singh is contesting elections.
“Mandi seat is a prestige issue for chief minister. Hence Kangra is not being given that much prominence,” said the analysts.
They said Congress has also to consolidate its cadre in Kangra, giving an edge to BJP in the campaigning. Despite being given Other Backward Class (OBC) candidate from Kangra, Congress has failed to keep this traditional vote bank intact.
Recently, Arun Mehra, a prominent OBC leader from Nagrota Bagwan, joined BJP owing to differences with minister GS Bali who represents the constituency. The bickering in Congress has also come to fore in Chamba district, also a part of the constituency. During Chander's tour to the district, former minister and Dalhouise MLA Asha Kumari was absent from the meetings of party workers.