Shanta Kumar locks horns with first-timer in LS poll
The BJP leader faces a formidable rival in state forest minister Chander Kumar, who is contesting the LS polls for the first time.
A lively contest is on the cards in the prestigious Kangra parliamentary constituency in Himachal Pradesh where former union minister and senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar faces a formidable rival in low-profile state Forest Minister Chander Kumar, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections for the first time.
The sprawling constituency, nestling in the lap of towering Dhauladhar ranges and comprising 13 assembly segments of Kangra district and four non-tribal segments of Chamba district, is witnessing intense political activity as both congress and BJP are locked in a "do or die" battle.
Stakes are really high for Shanta Kumar, a two-time Chief Minister and former union minister, who had defeated Congress veteran Sat Mahajan by over one lakh votes in 1999 and by 59,235 votes in 1998.
He had won the seat for the first time in 1989, defeating Chandresh Kumari of Congress by 59,204 votes but lost to Sat Mahajan in 1996 by 37,524 votes. Shanta kumar resigned the seat after three months on becoming the Chief Minister in March 1990.
In the subsequent by-election, D D Kanooria of BJP won the seat defeating Vikra Mahajan of Congress by 77,737 votes. Kanooria retained the seat by defeating Chandresh Kumari by a narrow margin of 10,818 votes in 1991 polls.
The Congress lost Kangra seat for the first time in 1977 during Janata wave when Durga Chand of Janata Party had defeated Vikram Mahajan (Cong) by 39,000 votes, but Mahajan avenged his defeat in 1980 mid-term Lok Sabha polls defeating Sharwan Kumar of Janata Party by 30,930 votes.
Chandresh Kumari (Cong), who won this seat only once in 1984 defeating Sharwan Kumar (BJP) by 1,17,133 voters, lost to Shanta Kumar in 1989.
This constituency with 10.31 lakh voters is the only seat in the state where women voters exceed men by about 14,000 and outnumber their male counterparts in ten out of seventeen assembly segments.
The caste-ridden constituency has a sizeable number of OBC voters and the Congress candidate belongs to this community.
While both BJP and Congress are trying to woo OBC votes, Shanta Kumar claims Congress would not be able to make any dent in OBC votes. An OBC candidate has never won from this constituency and the veteran BJP leader Sharwan Kumar belonging to OBC had contested four times from here but never made it to Lok Sabha.
Both Congress and BJP had dithered on the issue of 27 per cent reservation in jobs to the OBC but Shanta Kumar took credit for getting Scheduled Tribe status for Gaddis and Gujjars of merged areas, mainly falling in Kangra constituency.
The anxiety of BJP could be gauged from the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani announced at the election rally at Nurpur that Shanta Kumar would be inducted in the union cabinet in the NDA government.
The Congress has also raked up the issue of alleged irregularities in the Vivekanand Medical Research Trust, headed by Shanta Kumar while BJP has promised to convert the trust hospital into a premier institution of AIIMS level. Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj publically state that the trust hospital would be up graded into a top class super-speciality hospital if the state government agreed to it.
Shanta Kumar, an ace orator and organiser, was himself spearheading the campaign while the Congress campaign was being led by the Chief Minister V B Singh and eight cabinet ministers belonging to this constieucny.
The BJP could win only two seats in this constituency in the last Assembly elections but the voting pattern suggest that people voted differently in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls even if both are held simultaneously.
The polling percentage was 59.58 per cent in 1999 elections but the highest polling of 71.62 per cent was recorded in 1998 when the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls were held simultaneously.
While Congress had a lead of 13,358 in six Assembly segments in 1998 polls the BJP had a lead of 40,516 votes in eleven segments. However, the Congress secured lead of 7,578 votes in four Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls, compared to lead of 68,813 votes secured by BJP in 13 segments.
Shakti Chand of BSP, Roshan Lal Rana of Samajwadi Party and two independents Faquir Chand and Dhani Ram are also in the fray but it is a virtual direct fight between the two Kumars.