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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Battleground Himachal – Rebels Could Upset All Equations

The inability of both Congress & BJP to rein in their rebels has made the electoral battle very intricate & interesting in over a dozen constituencies including the State capital Shimla and Palampur, the home of BJP veteran and former CM Shanta Kumar. Internal bickering & sparring among leaders of both parties has resulted in favourites being denied tickets at the expense of political henchmen/women.

Thus, while in Shimla last time Congress candidate Harish Janartha – a Virbhadra loyalist – who lost the 2012 election by a narrow margin of over 600 votes was denied the party ticket in favour of Harbhajan Singh Bhajji (Anand Sharma loyalist) in Palampur, Parveen Sharma, a protege of Shanta Kumar was denied the party ticket in favour of Indu Goswami who is perceived to be close to the Prime Minister. With both Janartha & Parveen contesting as independents, defying the party diktat, the battle for the ballot has become intriguing. A win for them could be an embarrassment for both the parties.
Virbhadra’s home constituency Rampur is also seeing dissent with 6 time MLA and former Virbhadra loyalist Singhi Ram coming out as an independent against  the official Congress candidate Nand Lal.
Both the parties have banned their rebels and it would be interesting to see if that ban holds if the parties were to come within striking distance of forming the government and require the support of these rebels.  The rebel candidates of both parties are bound to make inroads into the party vote bank and their ability to slice the party vote would determine their fate and of the official candidate at the hustings.
In Shimla, the Congress rebel Janartha, who fell prey to the Congress infighting and was denied a party ticket, is trying just that and has managed to rally the young  Congress voter around him though it remains to be seen if he is able to convert that support into votes.
While in Shimla Congress is on the backfoot, the BJP is on a similar ground in Palampur where​ BJP veteran and current MP from Kangra, Shanta Kumar could not secure a party ticket for​ his protege Parveen Sharma who turned a rebel and is fighting as an independent. Will the outsider tag attached with Indu Goswami help local leader Parveen remains to be seen, but a relative greenhorn of Congress Ashish Butail who is the son of current speaker Brij Bihari Butail could be the beneficiary.
Fatehpur in Kangra is another constituency where there is double trouble for BJP with 2 BJP rebels including Baldev Singh Thakur in the fray against BJP’s candidate Kirpal Singh Parmar. In Shahpur constituency of Kangra district, though former Congress Minister and a severe critic of Virbhadra, Major Vijay Singh Mankotia is contesting as an independent giving a clear edge to the BJP nominee Sarveen Chaudhary who defeated Mankotia in 2012 by over 3000 votes.
In Chamba, it is a political theatre of the absurd with former Congressman​ Pawan Nayyar switching sides to BJP just one month before the election after being denied the Congress ticket, leaving sitting BJP MLA B K Chauhan to fight as an independent; even a last ditch attempt by Union Minister J P Nadda could not deter this two time BJP MLA from Chamba to file his nomination as an independent, thus giving the Congress candidate Neeraj Nayyar a decisive edge.
In Bharmour constituency adjacent to Chamba town, the BJP’s official candidate Jiya Lal has to contend with a rebel from his own clan before he can take on Bharmouri from the Congress, leaving the latter with a clear advantage. In Mandi, former Congress State President and current minister in Virbhadra cabinet Thakur Kaul Singh is fighting dissent with his own district president up in arms against him and filing his nomination as an independent.
The rebel candidates of   both parties are bound to influence the election results in key constituencies and traditional bastions of both parties, and if it comes to a hung assembly the winners amongst these rebels could be laughing all the way to the Vidhan Sabha.

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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