These ‘old war horses’ of Himachal Pradesh are prominently backing the ‘new leadership’ in the battlefield for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In their 90s, 80s and 70s, the elderly politicians rather seem indispensable campaigners for political parties, mainly Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress, and their nominees in the hill state due to their stature, experience and influence.
Himachal has four Lok Sabha seats- Kangra, Hamirpur, Mandi and Shimla (reserved).
The total voters in Himachal are 51, 59000, with female voters little less than 50 per cent. The first time voters in HP this time are nearly 90,000.
The youngest candidate in Lok Sabha battle field in Himachal is Ashray Sharma (32) of Congress in Mandi, and the oldest candidate is Col (retd) Dhani Ram Shandil (78) of Congress in Shimla.
While Congress party has given the command of campaign to former six-time CM Virbhadra Singh (84) in state, former Union minister, Sukh Ram (93) is playing active role for Congress in Mandi, where he managed Congress ticket for his grandson, Ashray Sharma through last minute switch from BJP.
Another nonagenarian, former Congress minister, Vidya Stokes shows up in campaigning in Shimla district.
Virbhadra Singh is MLA from Arki in Solan district. Sukh Ram and Stokes are out of electoral politics however.
Virbhadra Singh accompanied the party chief and former Union Minister, Anand Sharma, who had earlier been his arch rival, at the filing of nomination papers by party candidates in different constituencies so far. Singh has even agreed to rough it out in the field for Ashray Sharma, grandson of his long time adversary in Congress, Sukh Ram.
“Virbhadra Singh is still a force to reckon with in state. Sukh Ram has great hold on ground even today and Vidya Stokes is also a popular leader. The party will certainly benefit from their experience and acumen of the elderly leaders,” said state Congress chief, Kuldeep Singh Rathore.
In BJP, former Union minister and sitting BJP MP from Kangra, Shanta Kumar (84) had to abruptly retire from electoral politics, when the party leadership in Delhi decided not to field the elders this time. But keeping grace, the senior most BJP leader is keenly campaigning for the party in state.
Former two-time CM, Prem Kumar Dhumal (75), who lost his poll in 2017, is canvassing for BJP nominees in state, although his main focus is in Hamirpur, where his son, three times MP in a row, Anurag Thakur is contesting.
“I am relaxed and am enjoying this era. Wherever, the party tells me to campaign, I will go,” Shanta Kumar shared.
Both Shanta and Dhumal, who have been arch rivals in BJP for long time, accompanied CM, Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP chief, Satpal Singh Satti in all the four Lok Sabha constituencies at the time of filing of nomination papers by respective candidates of BJP.
It is pertinent to mention that the ‘generational change’ in leadership took place in Himachal in 2017, when Dhumal lost his poll (despite being BJP’s CM candidate) paving the way for five time MLA, Jai Ram Thakur take over as CM.
Congress too chose to have four-time MLA in a row Agnihotri as Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader, instead of elderly Virbhadra.