Himachal polls: Former aide Rana stands between Dhumal & victory in Sujanpur
The political atmosphere in Sujanpur constituency of poll bound Himachal Pradesh is electric. Here Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) chief ministerial face Prem Kumar Dhumal is facing a stiff challenge from his one-time close associate Rajender Rana of the Congress.
“Till the time the BJP announced that Dhumal would be the chief minister if the party comes to power, it was expected that Rana would win this seat with ease. It was being seen as a one-sided cricket test match but now it is heading for a T-20 one. The dynamics have changed overnight,” says a tea-seller at the small bus stand in Sujanpur.
Congress supporters want to create history here by defeating a chief ministerial face, a task that has become difficult. The people here are also clear that had it not been Dhumal and that too with a chief ministerial tag, Rana would have been a sure winner. He is very popular because of his personal connect and humility.
There is an interesting history to where he has reached politically. People do remember Rana and Dhumal to have been very close till a few years back when differences cropped up between the two.
This saw Rana contesting the 2012 polls as an independent and winning. He later joined the Congress to contest the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat in 2014 that he lost to Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur in what the people explain as a 'Modi wave' effect. Meanwhile his wife too contested the Assembly seat that he had vacated, but unsuccessfully.
Now he is again in the battleground as the Congress candidate and a very strong one at that. People mention Rana's connect with them over the last decade and a half and point out how he has helped solemnise marriages of around 6,000 poor girls.
Dhumal had come to this constituency on the back foot. Firstly he was 'pushed' here by the BJP top brass from his home constituency of Hamirpur. Secondly, the people here say that during his tenure as the chief minister, he was rarely seen here. It was only when the BJP president was compelled to declare him as the next BJP chief minister that the things started changing. Today with Dhumal hopping constituencies across the state it is his younger son Arun who is working for him on the ground.
“Our biggest challenge is to tell the ordinary people what it means to be a resident of a chief minister's constituency and how they are set to gain once the chief minister's office opens here,” says a BJP worker Ankush Gupta.
The Congress workers on the other hand are going around telling the people that Rana is set to be the deputy chief minister if the Congress repeats the government in the state.
Both the parties have engaged cultural troupes to perform in the remote villages of the constituency where local issues are galore.
Sujanpur is a constituency having around 65,000 voters spread across 103 polling booths. Besides Dhumal and Rana the other candidates who are in the fray are Ravinder Thakur of the NCP, Joginder Kumar of the CPM and Parveen Kumar of the BSP. The sitting BJP MLA on the seat is now the party candidate from Hamirpur seat.
Sujanpur residents take pride recounting their rich history. The constituency derived its name from Sujanpur Tihra that was developed by one of the most revered kings of the Katoch dynasty Maharaja Sansar Chand. He moved his capital here after Kangra was taken over by Muslim invaders.
In 18th century, overlooking the town of Sujanpur Tira, King Abhay Chand Katoch- the ruler, built a fortified palace on top of the hill called Tira in 1748 AD and the town got a suffix to its name of Sujanpur. The one square kilometer green ground in the middle of the town (called Chaugan) was used to train soldiers.
It is now a place where the masses bask in the sun discussing the nitty-gritty of life and is the hub of political these days. It was once reputed to be the town of the most educated in the old Kangra district that stretched from Nurpur to Manali.
For the town, the electoral issues remain improvement in civic amenities, deployment of doctors in hospitals and teaching staff in the government schools, beautification of Chaugan and developing the Tira fort as a tourist destination.
In the rural areas, the concerns are centred around employment, water supply, monkey menace, improved health and education facilities. This is a constituency where defense forces remain the biggest source of employment. The people want industrial development, if not the big ones at least small processing units.
There is a tussle between the Congress and the BJP to claim credit for the development works that have been executed in the area, be it the water schemes, the road network, opening of colleges and up-gradation of schools.
It is amid this scenario that the constituency is witnessing a clash of titans. Whatever the results, this is perhaps the most high profile contest in these polls.