Like veteran politician Sukh Ram, who along with his grandson Aashrey returned to the Congress (after BJP denied ticket to Aashrey) on Monday, two other senior BJP leaders –Suresh Chandel, a former BJP three-time MP from Hamirpur and Maheshwar Singh, also a former three-time MP from Mandi, are all set to join the Congress with eyes on party tickets from Hamirpur and Mandi Lok Sabha constituencies.
The new entrants to the Congress will prove to be game changers in the 2019 general elections.
Facing embarrassment in the saffron party, these BJP old guards are feeling ignored, dumped and replaced with the new faces in the last two decades. The three started finding space in the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, president of Indian National Congress.
Political analysts are of the opinion that these rebels may play a spoilsport for the BJP thus benefiting the Congress candidates in all four Lok Sabha seats in the Hill state.
Former union minister Sukh Ram, who had joined the BJP after quitting the Congress returned to the party fold recently. He is demanding a Congress ticket from Mandi Parliamentary seat for his grandson, while former BJP MP from Hamirpur Suresh Chandel is interested in contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Hamirpur.
Sukh Ram’s son Anil Sharma is the Power Minister in the BJP-led Himachal government. He was also a cabinet minister in the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government before shifting his loyalty towards the BJP.
As the Central Election Committee will take the final decision on ticket allotment on March 29, the top brass of the Himachal Pradesh Congress leadership is camping in Delhi and a hectic lobbying for party tickets is on among contenders.
Sukh Ram and Aashrey had met Rahul Gandhi and it is learnt that the Congress chief gave a patient hearing to Sukh Ram’s demand for party ticket to his grandson.
Meanwhile, Suresh Chandel is also camping in Delhi and said to have met Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders of the Congress. Seeking party ticket for Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat, Chandel is likely to join the Congress on Thursday, party insiders informed.
Though the Lok Sabha elections for four seats are going to be interesting in Himachal this time but with Sukh Ram and Chandel joining the Congress, it will make (if the two manage to get the party tickets) the elections for Hamirpur and Mandi constituencies very attention-grabbing.
It will not be a smooth ride for the BJP candidates –Anurag Thakur and Ram Swaroop Sharma- from Hamirpur and Mandi seats as both Sukh Ram and Suresh Chandel still have a strong hold over their respective constituencies.
Though Aashrey lacks potential and popularity in Mandi but his grandfather, Sukh Ram who was expelled from the Congress after the telecom scam and later formed the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), still has his roots deep in the constituency. He could disturb the BJP’s equation in Mandi.
The three-time BJP MP Maheshwar Singh, who floated the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), was also a contender from Mandi seeking BJP ticket. Singh, who is also the owner of Lord Raghunath Temple at Kullu as a scion of erstwhile Kullu princely state, was, however, denied a ticket by the BJP. Later, a disgruntled Singh also got in touch with the state Congress leaders seeking party ticket from Mandi.
Party insiders revealed that former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who also represented the constituency, is willing to field his son Vikramaditya Singh, sitting MLA from Shimla (Rural) Assembly Constituency, from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. Sukh Ram’s return to the Congress and demand for a party ticket for his grandson has disappointed Virbhadra.
In Hamirpur, where the BJP has fielded Anurag Thakur, son of Prem Kumar Dhumal, a former Chief Minister of Himachal and three-time MP from this seat, only Chandel could be an ideal choice for the Congress.
Thakur will face anti-incumbency as the constituency was virtually abandoned by its MP for the past decade. Moreover, he is considered one among the high-headed leaders of the state. Thakur was forced to step down from his position as president the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the orders of the Apex Court in 2017.
The former state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, Abhishek Rana, son of Rajinder Rana, MLA from Sujanpur Assembly Constituency who defeated his mentor and former state Chief Minister and Chief Ministerial candidate of the BJP Prem Kumar Dhuman in 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, are front runners for the party ticket. Candidature of Rana is also being opposed by the senior Congress leaders who give priority to seasoned leaders instead of the amateur ones.
Trouble has also erupted for the BJP candidates in Kangra and Shimla Parliamentary Constituencies with the party denying tickets to sitting MPs Shanta Kumar and Virender Kashyap, respectively. The party fielded Krishan Kapoor, a minister in the Jai Ram Thakur cabinet, from Kangra and Suresh Kashyap, sitting MLA from Pachaad in Sirmour, from Shimla. While Shanta has extended his support to Kapoor, Virender Kashyap is still missing from the election campaign. There could be a section of supporters of theses leaders who could indulge in undercutting.