History says voters in Mandi Lok Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh, which is witness to an interesting switch in electoral equations in the 2019 polls, have not spared even ‘big’ leaders in the battlefield. Right from former Union minister, Sukh Ram, former six-time Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, his wife, Pratibha Singh and senior leader, Maheshwar Singh, none could take the Mandi electorate for granted.
The 2014 Lok Sabha poll was an exception, when the people of Mandi unexpectedly preferred a novice BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma over then CM Virbhadra Singh’s wife, sitting MP, Pratibha Singh.
One of the four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh, Mandi is the toughest and largest constituency in the state. It includes tribal districts of Lahaul Spiti, Kinnaur and the tribal belt of Chamba district that is Bharmour.
BJP’s sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma is facing the Congress party’s Ashray Sharma in the poll battlefield in Mandi in 2019.
What has twisted the poll equations this time is that former Union minister Sukh Ram (93) crossed over to Congress at the eleventh hour with his grandson, Ashray Sharma. The Congress gave a Lok Sabha ticket to Ashray Sharma, while his father, Anil Sharma, is still in the BJP. Anil Sharma, minister in previous Congress government had switched to BJP ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, won the election from Mandi and become a minister in the BJP government.
He had to, however, quit his ministerial berth after his son, Ashray, got the Congress ticket, but is not campaigning.
The switchover this time has changed the poll scenario, as Mandi also happens to be the BJP Chief Minister, Jai Ram Thakur’s home district. Importantly, Jai Ram is the first CM from Mandi, which makes this Lok Sabha election prestigious for BJP.
Interestingly, Jai Ram, who is now leading the Lok Sabha poll battle in the state, too, had lost one Lok Sabha by-poll from Mandi in 2013 against Pratibha Singh, while he was four-time MLA, BJP was in the Opposition and Virbhadra Singh was CM of Himachal.
“I am an ordinary man. I am going to people with my performance and the performance of Modi government in five years and that of BJP government in HP over a one year period, which expedited all the central works,” said sitting MP and BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma. Ram Swaroop, who was seen as a lightweight candidate of BJP against then CM’s wife, sitting MP Pratibha Singh, had won, taking advantage of the Modi wave.
Congress nominee Ashray Sharma, however, is banking on his grandfather’s influence in the area, which he has represented thrice in 1984, 1991 and 1996, twice as a minister, and Congress back-up, particularly of former six-time CM, Virbhadra Singh.
Sukh Ram was defeated in Mandi in 1989 by BJP leader, Maheshwar Singh. Even Virbhadra Singh, who ruled the roost in Congress as CM six times, has remained MP thrice from Mandi, winning in 1971, 1980 and 2009. Singh was defeated by Janata Party’s Ganga Singh in 1977. Virbhadra almost trailed and won by a slender margin in 2009 against BJP’s Maheshwar Singh. Maheshwar Singh too has represented Mandi in Lok Sabha thrice in 1989, 1998 and 1999. He had defeated Congress’s sitting MP and minister Sukh Ram in 1989. Sukh Ram later defeated him in 1991, and Pratibha Singh defeated him in 2004. Although Congress has won in Mandi more times than the BJP in last four decades, the seat cannot be termed anyone’s bastion ~ neither the leaders, nor parties.