Turmoil in Himachal Congress over ticket allocation

Shimla, Feb 23: The ruling Congress in Himachal Pradesh is in turmoil over selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha election.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is almost certain to be the party’s candidate from Mandi, a seat she holds.

But the party is yet to reach consensus on three seats — Shimla (reserved), Hamirpur and Kangra, which is the state’s largest constituency in terms of voters.

The chief minister is keen to field BJP leader-turned-rebel Rajinder Rana from Hamirpur but state president Sukhvinder Sukhu is opposed to Rana, a Congress leader said.

Rana is an independent legislator from Sujanpur and an associate member of the Congress.

Differences between the chief minister and Sukhu have surfaced a number of times on allocation of ticket from Hamirpur and Kangra seats, said the leader.

“Rana is the best option from Hamirpur and I have given my views to the party high command,” Virbhadra Singh told reporters here.

Informed sources said the names of first-time cabinet minister Mukesh Agnihotri and Rakesh Kalia were also discussed for Hamirpur, a seat held by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Anurag Thakur.

Two-time MP Thakur, son of two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, is likely to be retained from this seat.

“Agnihotri doesn’t want to lose cabinet berth, so he is expressing reluctance to commit himself. And Kalia is not Virbhadra Singh’s choice,” said a party insider.

Rana’s name also figured in the Congress corruption “chargesheet” given to President Pranab Mukherjee in August 2012 by the BJP.

From Kangra, a section of state leaders are lobbying for union Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch.

But the chief minister favours the candidature of former MP Chander Kumar.

Raghubir Bali, son of Transport Minister G.S. Bali, is also eyeing Kangra, where the BJP is planning to field two-time chief minister Shanta Kumar.

The BJP’s outgoing MP, Rajan Sushant, Saturday joined the Aam Aadmi Party after a prolonged tussle with the state party and is likely to be fielded from the seat.

From Shimla, Rohru first-time legislator Mohan Lal Bragta is the chief minister’s choice. Vinod Sultanpuri, son of six-time MP K.D. Sultanpuri, is also in the race. He lost the last assembly elections from Kasauli by a thin margin.

The BJP is planning to retain incumbent Virender Kashyap from Shimla.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which surprisingly won the mayor’s and deputy mayor’s posts in May 2012, is also in the fray. It will field Kushal Bhardwaj and Jagat Ram from Mandi and Shimla respectively.

IANS