None of the four Himachal Lok Sabha seats will witness a contest between old rivals in 2019, as all Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress candidates in the field are fighting against each other for the first time.
The BJP has chosen to field two sitting MPs in Hamirpur and Mandi, and two first timers (in Lok Sabha polls) in Kangra and Shimla (reserved), while the Congress too has given ticket to first timers in Mandi and Kangra. In Hamirpur and Shimla, the Congress has picked up sitting MLAs, who have contested Lok Sabha polls earlier but not against the present rivals.
The BJP had swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Himachal Pradesh, winning all the four seats, even while in opposition in the state, riding on the strong Narendra Modi wave that catapulted BJP to power at the Centre.
For 2019, the state BJP had recommended Lok Sabha tickets for all sitting MPs — former Union Minister, Shanta Kumar in Kangra, three time MP, Anurag Thakur in Hamirpur, one time MP Ram Swaroop Sharma in Mandi and two-time MP, Virender Kashyap in Shimla.
But the Parliamentary Board of BJP dropped two of them- Shanta Kumar (84) for age bar, and Virender Kashyap on performance criterion. In Kangra, the party gave ticket to Food and Civil Supplies minister, Kishan Kapoor and in Shimla, it picked up MLA, Suresh Kashyap.
In all, two sitting MLAs (including one minister) are in the battle field from BJP side, and three sitting MLAs from Congress side in HP.
“It does change the equations, when the rivals are new, but on the whole, in Lok Sabha elections, people generally vote on party lines, looking at national leadership, among other factors,” said state BJP chief, Satpal Singh Satti.
The battle ground in Mandi Parliamentary constituency has turned much ticklish as sitting BJP MP; Ram Swaroop now faces a new Congress rival, Ashray Sharma, who switched to Congress with his grandfather, former Union minister, Sukh Ram.
He BJP MP, who had last time defeated then sitting MP, Pratibha Singh (whose husband Virbhadra Singh was Chief Minister of HP in 2014), in strong Modi wave although has the advantage of BJP in the ruling this time, he finds the equation changed on ground.
In 2014 battle, Ram Swaroop Sharma had got tacit support of Sukh Ram, who wields influence in Mandi Parliamentary constituency. This time, the situation is opposite, as former Congress CM, Virbhadra Singh, who has been arch rival of Sukh Ram, is silent on his poll strategy for Ashray Sharma. Singh referred to Sukh Ram s ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ when the latter jumped into Congress at the eleventh hour this time, leaving the party rank and file apprehensive in Mandi.
In Hamirpur, three times MP in a row, Anurag Thakur is pitted against new rival, Congress MLA Ram Lal Thakur, in his fourth election. Anurag Thakur defeated different contestants of Congress in 2008, 2009 and 2014.
Five time MLA and former Congress minister, Ram Lal Thakur has however contested Lok Sabha poll thrice (twice against former BJP MP Suresh Chandel and former CM, Prem Kumar Dhumal) only to lose.
Kangra Parliamentary constituency is witness to battle between BJP minister, Kishan Kapoor and Congress MLA Pawan Kajal, both fighting Lok Sabha polls for the first time.
Two-time MLA in a row, Kajal belongs to Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Kapoor from Gaddi community.
Shimla (reserved) Parliamentary constituency is witness to interesting battle between two ex-servicemen — former MP Dhani Ram Shandil, who is presently Congress MLA from Solan, and BJP MLA Suresh Kashyap. For the first time, the BJP has fielded a candidate from Sirmaur district. The Congress has given ticket to Shandil from Solan, who is two time former MP (1999-2004 and 2004-2009).