BJP indecisive on Mandi, Cong summons CM, Sukhu
While the Bharatiya Janata Party continued to walk tightrope on deciding the candidate for Mandi parliamentary seat, Congress leaders - chief minister Virbhadra Singh and state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu - who have locked horns over Hamirpur and Shimla seats, were summoned to Delhi by the party high command to evolve a consensus.
Contrary to expectations, the BJP's central election committee that met in New Delhi on Saturday remained indecisive on the candidate for Mandi even as candidates for three parliamentary constituencies - Shimla, Kangra and Hamirpur - were already announced at the end of last month, giving the saffron party an edge over its rival Congress.
The BJP was hopeful that Kullu legislator - Maheshwar Singh who is heading the saffron party's breakaway faction Himachal Lokhit Party - will return to the party fold. It had tried to win over Maheshwar Singh but notwithstanding persistent efforts of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), Maheshwar Singh declined the offer. The party leaders were of the view that Maheshwar could have been the best bet against Pratibha Singh. Maheshwar Singh, who has contested parliamentary elections six times had remained Lok Sabha member from Mandi thrice.
After its previous nominee, former rural development minister Jai Ram Thakur declined to contest elections, the BJP had forwarded a panel of four names, including Kargil War hero Brigadier Kushal Thakur, party's vice-president Ram Swaroop, spokesperson Ajay Rana and Manali legislator Govind Thakur.
While it's almost certain that the Congress will re-nominate chief minister Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh from Mandi, the BJP is still weighing its options against her.
A section of party leaders is strongly favouring Manali legislator Govind Thakur, while leaders owing allegiance to former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal are backing Ajay Rana. The party is of the view that Brig Kushal Thakur's image of a war hero could help it reap electoral gains. Thakur had led 18 grenadiers at the time of Kargil conflict.
With Govind Thakur being frontrunner for the ticket, it's likely that BJP's central election committee could announce the candidate during its meeting scheduled for March 12, 13 and 14. "The central election committee of the BJP is likely to meet on March 13, and hopefully candidate for Mandi seat will be announced the same day," state BJP chief Satpal Satti told Hindustan Times. The BJP central election committee that met in Delhi has cleared 52 candidates for other states.
Anxiety over the ticket allocation is more apparent in the Congress as its central election committee that met in Delhi on Friday had remained inconclusive on candidates for Himachal, even though it cleared names for neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. "We expect that tickets for all four seats could be cleared when the party's CEC meets again on March 12," state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu said.
Choice of candidates has been stuck in the strife between chief minister Virbhadra Singh and state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu. With industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri reluctant to contest from Hamirpur, the Virbhadra Singh camp is backing independent legislator Rajinder Rana.
Sukhu, who himself hails from Hamirpur district, is vehemently opposed to Rana's candidature and instead has been rooting for some strong Congressman. Rana, one-time close lieutenant of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, became an associate member of the Congress after being elected from Sujanpur.
On the other hand, in Kangra it's race between former Lok Sabha member Chander Kumar and culture minister Chandresh Kumari. Though Pratibha Singh's candidature is certain from Mandi, Virbhadra Singh and Sukhu have locked horns over ticket allotment for Shimla parliamentary seat.
Virbhadra Singh is seeking ticket for Rohru legislator Mohan Lal Bragta, while Sukhu has thrown his weight behind young Vinod Sultanpuri, son of six-time Lok Sabha member KD Sultanpuri.