Amidst fierce fight between parties to tilt the scales, politically significant Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh is in for an interesting finish with two senior-most leaders crossing swords to limit ‘family clout’ in 2017 Assembly polls.
While former Union Telecom minister, Sukh Ram, 92, who has crossed over from Congress to BJP again with his son, Anil Sharma, is out to outdo senior Congress leader, Kaul Singh Thakur, 72, in Darang constituency with his influence— Kaul Singh’s daughter, Champa Thakur, Congress candidate from Mandi segment, is giving tough time to Sukh Ram’s son, BJP nominee, in a direct contest.
Mandi district has 10 Assembly constituencies (second highest after Kangra’s 15), with BJP and Congress taking five each in 2012 polls. Sukh Ram is seen as a popular leader in Mandi, despite conviction in corruption case.
He had earlier helped BJP come to power in 1998 with his Himachal Vikas Congress entering into a post-poll alliance to oust Virbhadra government in tight number game. He later merged HVC into parent party Congress.
Eight-time MLA, HP Health minister, Kaul Singh is fighting his old opponent, Jawahar Lal of BJP in Darang and is troubled by Congress rebel, Puran Chand (independent).
Kaul Singh defeated Jawahar Lal in last election by over 2000 votes and Puran had been his confidant earlier. A tight contest apart, what has made it more difficult for Congress minister is that Sukh Ram is campaigning for BJP there.
Sukh Ram, an all time rival of Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, does not enjoy good rapport with Congress leaders in Mandi as they had been supporting CM in Sukh Ram versus Virbhadra fight.
Although, over time, Kaul Singh turned Virbhadra’s detractor too, when the latter opposed him for supremacy in the run up to 2012 Assembly polls.
“I have always faced rebels in polls. But I am comfortable. Sukh Ram factor will not have any sway in Mandi district this time as he is exposed before public and is a spent force,” Kaul Singh told The Statesman.
On Mandi seat, Anil Sharma faces a challenge, with Champa Thakur cornering him for his changing loyalties and lack of vision in development.
Thakur, who is contesting her maiden Assembly poll, has been elected to Zila Parishad third time and is chairperson of Zila Parishad in Mandi.
BJP insiders said Sharma, who resigned from Virbhadra cabinet after polls were announced, is talking about his contribution in developing Mandi that he has represented thrice, and his father seven times.
He, however, is internally deserted by BJP workers in Mandi as the party high ups have again ignored strong claims of local party leaders for ticket to accommodate a Congress man in the last.
In 2007 polls, the BJP had given ticket to promising young leader, Praveen Sharma and had later withdrawn it to field DD Thakur, a Congress rebel at the eleventh hour. Thakur lost the poll in 2007 and 2012.
“I am a disciplined worker. The poll on Mandi seat may be tough, but the BJP will win,” Praveen told The Statesman.