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BJP gains from Cong confusion

Confusion over the Congress's chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh appears to be working in favour of the BJP in lower Himachal in general, and Kangra district in particular.
By Pankaj Vohra | PTI, Dharamshala
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2003 01:26 PM IST

The confusion over the Congress's chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh appears to be working in favour of the BJP in lower Himachal in general, and Kangra district in particular.

The Congress president has consciously not touched upon the leadership issue at election rallies, keeping in mind the rivalry between former CM Virbhadra Singh and PCC Chief Vidya Stokes.

The BJP has branded the Congress as a "team without a captain" and a "marriage party without a groom". In the Congress camp, on the other hand, the factional feud has shown on the campaign. Tilting the balance in favour of one of the rivals at this stage may throw up a situation difficult to handle.

Virbhadra has campaigned briefly in lower Himachal, while Stokes has only paid a quick visit to Baijnath. Both of them know the importance of Kangra, since the party that wins here usually forms the government in Himachal.

Claims by the Congress's Kangra candidate, Chandresh Kumari, that she could be the chief ministerial candidate, have compounded the party's problems.

Another senior Congress leader, Sat Mahajan, claimed he was bound to be the deputy chief minister if the Congress returned to power.

Virbhadra is the party's most well known leader, so a lot of people expect him to be CM. If that happens, it would mean Kangra and adjoining areas might not get the preference they have been getting under the BJP. Virbhadra would be likely to focus on upper Himachal, from where he hails. Even Dharamshala's promised status as the state's winter capital may not materialise.

Top Congress leaders in the state hail from upper Himachal, while the top two BJP leaders, PK Dhumal and Shanta Kumar hail from lower Himachal. The divide may get reflected in the poll outcome, though Independent and rebel candidates of both parties might upset all calculations.

BJP leaders say the Congress would be in a better position if it tied up with Sukh Ram. Corruption charges against Dhumal have not cut much ice since the region has witnessed development during his rule. Dhumal is the only BJP CM, apart from B.S. Shekhawat, to have completed a full-five year term.

The Congress hopes the anti incumbency factor will sweep the party to victory.

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