Rebels threaten to upset poll calculations in Himachal Pradesh
In poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, rebel leaders are giving sleepless nights to the brass of both the Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
For a mere 68-seat Assembly, the presence of a dozen heavyweight rebels has led to creases on the brows of the main protagonists as they can play spoilsport even if they can't manage to win.
The failure of the party leaders to dissuade these candidates from contesting against the official candidates of the two main parties has turned the contests on these seats multi-cornered. It has also upset all the mathematical calculations that had been done based on caste and regional profiles.
“However, there is a difference between the pattern as far as the rebel candidates coming into the fray are concerned. In case of the Congress party, it is the outcome of the factionalism at the local level. But in case of the BJP, it has resulted from the complete centralisation of the distribution of party tickets,” pointed out a political analyst based in Shimla.
The Congress was always expecting rebels to file their candidature given the high-pitched internal factional battles between the group led by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and the state Congress Chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu that had preceded the distribution of tickets and the beginning of the party campaign.
But the decision of half a dozen rebels not adhering to the requests of withdrawal came as a surprise to the BJP and its supporters since it has always claimed to be a disciplined 'party with a difference'.
BJP sources have been saying that in the past weightage was always given to the names suggested by the senior leaders from the state who are well-versed with local dynamics and ground realities. But this time, Amit Shah and his team took everything in their own hands which has resulted in the poll calculations going awry.
The main issue of concern for the two parties is that majority of these rebels are former ministers or MLAs having substantial clout in their constituencies and hence are no pushovers.
For example, it is five-time MLA and a former minister Vijai Singh Mankotia who has made things difficult for the Congress in the Shahpur constituency of Kangra district. Similarly, six-time Congress MLA from Rampur Singhi Ram is threatening to score at home defeating both the Congress and BJP candidates.
The other Congress rebels threatening to play spoilsport for the party candidates are –
– Former Karsog MLA Mast Ram
– Harish Janartha in Shimla (Urban)
– Puran Thakur in Darang (Mandi)
– Hardeep Bawa in Nalagarh
The Congress leadership tried to dissuade these rebels with the help of former chief ministers of Haryana and Uttarakhand Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Harish Rawat. But, the effort proved futile. Even Virbhadra tried to persuade them to withdraw unsuccessfully.
Reports say that on a couple of seats, the official candidates did not want the rebels to withdraw on the grounds that a multi-cornered contest would work to their advantage.
The Congress was however successful in getting former MLA from Bilaspur (Sadar) MLA Tilak Raj, Prem Kaushal in Bhoranj and Daharamvir Dhami in Manali constituencies to withdraw their candidature in favour of the official candidates.
For the BJP, former revenue minister Rajan Sushant is contesting as a rebel on Jawali seat. Sushant had recently switched over to the saffron party in the hope of getting a ticket but the latter's denial led to him contesting as a rebel. He is expected to walk away with a large chunk of BJP votes from that seat.
Another rebel that the BJP is wary of is Praveen Sharma who is contesting from Palampur seat against the official candidate Indu Goswamy who is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The contest on the seat has become a dilemma for former chief minister Shanta Kumar as Praveen is seen as his prodigy, while he is compelled to support Indu as the party candidate and that too a prodigy of Modi.
The other rebels from the party include sitting MLAs from –
– Chamba BK Chauhan
– Lalit Thakur in Bharmour
– Former Renuka MLA Hriday Ram.
– Baldev Thakur, the party candidate in 2012 polls from Fathehpur has also refused to withdraw from the contest.
The BJP tried to get these leaders to withdraw with the help of election in-charge Thawar Chand Gehlot, party in-charge of Himachal, Mangal Pandey, and national organising secretary Ram Lal but their efforts have proved futile.
Observers say that in a small state like Himachal, even one seat can make a huge difference and here there are no less than a dozen rebels threatening to make all the difference.