Congress gets double jolt ahead of Himachal assembly polls as 2 MLAs join BJP

Published on Aug 17, 2022 06:39 PM IST

In a major setback to Congress, which aims at returning to power in Himachal in the upcoming assembly elections, two of its MLAs Pawan Kajal and Lakhwinder Singh Rana joined BJP on Wednesday

Himachal chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP chief Suresh Kashyap welcomed Pawan Kajal (left) and Lakhwinder Singh Rana to the party in New Delhi. Both the defector MLAs were expelled from Congress for six years for anti-party activities after they joined the BJP. (HT Photo)
Himachal chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP chief Suresh Kashyap welcomed Pawan Kajal (left) and Lakhwinder Singh Rana to the party in New Delhi. Both the defector MLAs were expelled from Congress for six years for anti-party activities after they joined the BJP. (HT Photo)
ByGaurav Bisht/Naresh K Thakur, Shimla/dharamshala:

In a major setback to the opposition Congress, which aims at returning to power in Himachal in the upcoming assembly elections, two of its MLAs Pawan Kajal and Lakhwinder Singh Rana joined the BJP on Wednesday.

Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP chief Suresh Kashyap welcomed the two MLAs to the party in New Delhi. Pawan Kajal, a two-term legislator who represents Kangra, was also the working president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC).

Anticipating his move, Congress had removed Kajal from the post late on Tuesday to avoid embarrassment. Both the defector MLAs were expelled from Congress for six years for anti-party activities after they joined the BJP.

Late on Tuesday, words spread that Kajal and Rana had flown to New Delhi while chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, state BJP president Suresh Kashyap, secretary (organisation) Pavan Rana and Union minister of information and broadcasting, who was on a tour to the state, also made a sudden dash to the national capital to finalise their induction into the party.

Kajal was a BJP member before 2012 when he contested the assembly election from Kangra as an Independent candidate after being denied a ticket. He extended support to the Congress government led by former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and became an associate member of the Congress.

He joined the Congress before the 2017 assembly elections and was re-elected. Earlier, he was twice elected as a member of the Kangra Zila Parishad. Rumours were rife for quite some time that he may join the BJP, though Kajal had denied of any such move and even chaired a meeting of block Congress a day ago.

He was appointed the Congress working president in April when Pratibha Singh was made the HPCC chief.

Kajal belongs to the OBC community, a dominant force in the most populous and electorally significant Kangra district. His joining the BJP ahead of the polls has dealt a blow to the Congress in Kangra, the district that sends 15 legislators to the 68-member state assembly.

Kajal was miffed for being continuously ignored within the party and in his own district right from the day when he was appointed the working president in April. He was given a seat in the back row during the party functions held at Dharamshala and Palampur and even was not invited to address the party workers.

Lakhwinder Singh Rana is a two-term legislator from the Nalagarh Assembly segment in Solan district and was close to former HPCC chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, who now heads the important election campaign committee of the state Congress.

State Congress president Pratibha Singh’s legislator son Vikramaditya Singh had been openly promoting the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) state president Hardeep Singh Bawa, a staunch loyalist of late chief minister Virbhadra Singh, from Nalagarh for a long which left Rana peeved. Bawa had unsuccessfully contested the 2017 election against Rana as an Independent candidate and was expelled from the Congress.

He was not only taken back into the Congress but was given a prominent post of state general secretary in Pratibha Singh’s team. Since then, Bawa had been carrying out activities parallel to Rana, projecting himself as the Congress candidate from Nalagarh for the next assembly elections.

Rana started as an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, BJP’s student wing, in 1996. He was a member of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in 1997 and later served as president of the Nalagarh block of the BJP twice. He also remained a member of the panchayat samiti and zila parishad.

Rana joined the Indian National Congress in 2005 and served in various posts in the party since then. He was first elected to the state legislative assembly in 2011 byelections and re-elected in 2017.

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