Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Kangra MP Shanta Kumar, four-time parliamentarian, undecided on contesting this time
Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Former Himachal chief minister and MP from Kangra Lok Sabha constituency, Shanta Kumar was an under-performer in the House. The veteran BJP leader has often expressed the desire to quit electoral politics on public platforms but has left the final decision to the party.Updated: Mar 12, 2019 11:33 IST
Five years ago, he almost hung up his boots and announced that he was quitting electoral politics. But his party, the BJP, was not willing. It was eying a sweep in Himachal Pradesh and was scouting for a strong candidate for the Kangra Lok Sabha seat since the then member of Parliament, Rajan Sushant, had decided to leave the saffron party for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). No one from Kangra could have been a stronger bet than Shanta Kumar, the founding father of the BJP in the state. So the veteran leader had a change of heart and went with the flow when the Narendra Modi wave reached a crest.
Shanta Kumar promised to transform Kangra, comprising the four assembly segments of Chamba district, and defeated Chaudhary Chander Kumar of the Congress by 1.7 lakh votes. At 84, he missed a ministerial berth in the Modi government having surpassed the upper limit of 75 years set by the Prime Minister for the council of ministers. Shanta was made head of the panel on restructuring of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), given his experience of being a former Union minister for food and consumer affairs.
This is his fourth term as the Kangra MP but this time his stint has been unimpressive with his promises to voters of Kangra and Chamba unfulfilled.
‘Outspoken’ MP mum inside the House
No stranger to controversy, the veteran triggered a storm in the party when in July 2015 he dropped the letter bomb and demanded that BJP president Amit Shah appoint a Lokpal in the party as “scams in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have forced hang our heads in shame”.
An embarrassed BJP pulled him up, accusing him of being influenced by the Congress. The leadership cautioned him to observe restraint while speaking to the media. Undeterred, Shanta Kumar reiterated that he stood by every word of the letter and that “someone had to speak up”.
It was not for the first time that he had drawn the party’s ire for his bold remarks. In 2002, he was the first to raise his voice against then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi post the Godhra riots, eventually leading to his ouster from the Union cabinet.
Otherwise an outspoken leader, Shanta Kumar remained silent in Parliament for most part of the proceedings. Though he has 90% attendance, he did not take part in the House. He raised 12 questions, much lower than the state and national averages of 185 and 292, respectively. He did not participate in any debate.
During the last Lok Sabha elections, Shanta Kumar promised to upgrade the Pathankot-Joginder Nagar narrow gauge rail line extending it up to Leh. He also announced that a cement plant will be set up in Chamba and will provide jobs to thousands in the rural district.
The railways has shelved the upgrade plan and there was no progress on the Chamba cement plant with no company showing interest in the project.
The proposal of setting up a ropeway in Palampur is also hanging fire.
Shanta Kumar, who is a former chief minister, however, is confident that the railways will develop the Pathankot-Joginder Nagar line from the tourism point of view and an alternative broad gauge line up to Leh will be laid to connect all cantonments in the region.
His supporters are quick to defend him. “He takes interest in the development of panchayats and asked local leaders to submit the list of projects for MP local area development funding,” says Rakesh Sharma, the media co-incharge of the state BJP.
However, his rivals term him a failure. “He made tall promises to the voters of Kangra and Chamba before the elections. He claimed that the Pathankot-Leh broad gauge rail line and cement plant in Chamba will change the face of the region but nothing moved on the ground. People are disappointed,” says senior Congress leader Chander Kumar.
Even as the BJP is looking forward to repeat its 2014 performance in Himachal Pradesh, Shanta Kumar is undecided on contesting this time. He has often expressed the desire to quit electoral politics on public platforms but has left the final decision to the party.
“I will do whatever the party decides,” he says. However, it will be tough for the BJP to find an alternative if the former minister decides to call it a day.
The party may field him again only if the Congress comes up with a formidable candidate.
First Published: Mar 12, 2019 11:30 IST