Dharamsala, March 23: Kangra, the largest Lok Sabha constituency in Himachal Pradesh in terms of voters and an erstwhile princely state, has a unique history — it doesn’t like to repeat its parliamentarians.
It hasn’t given a second chance to its sitting member of parliament in the past four decades, except in 1998 and 1999 and that too when the general elections were held in a gap of one year.
The Congress has pitted one-time MP Chander Kumar, 69, against BJP’s three-time MP Shanta Kumar, 79, who had announced his retirement from politics two year ago. Kumar was the only candidate elected in two consecutive terms.
BJP’s outgoing MP, Rajan Sushant, has joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) after a prolonged tussle with the state party and was fielded for this seat.
The constituency comprises 17 assembly segments in Kangra district and some parts of Chamba district, has 1,200,165 voters, including 595,669 women. It has a large number of ex-servicemen and a big chunk of voters belonging to the other backward classes (OBCs), to which the Congress candidate belongs.
Kangra is an erstwhile princely state once ruled by Katoch ruler Sansar Chand.
Shanta Kumar, who also remained a union minister and two-time chief minister – from 1977-80 and 1991-92, is the oldest candidate in the constituency.
“It’s not the age but the zeal to serve the country that matters,” the BJP candidate, who lost in the Lok Sabha polls in 1996 and 2004, told IANS.
In 2004, Congress’ Chander Kumar defeated Shanta Kumar, a Brahmin leader. But in the 2009 general elections, Chander Kumar faced defeat from the BJP’s Sushant.
Poll analysts say the Kangra constituency, which has around 20 percent Brahmin voters and seven percent OBC, has always remained an interesting battleground. In the assembly election, Kangra district holds the key in deciding the fate of the state’s two main parties, the Congress and the BJP.
“Shanta Kumar is fighting a survival battle. Before announcing his retirement from active politics in 2012, he was critical of his own party leaders,” said an observer.
Party leaders said Shanta Kumar at a meeting called by then party BJP chief Nitin Gadkari in February 2012 had openly aired grievances against then chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur – over allegations of corruption, illegal purchase of land and assets and their style of functioning.
On the other hand, Chander Kumar relies on his party’s government in the state, besides his OBC vote bank in the five assembly constituencies, Shahpur, Jawali, Nagrota Bagwan, Kangra and Jwalamukhi.
The Congress has an edge over the BJP as in the December 2012 assembly elections it had won 12 out of 17 assembly segments in the Kangra parliamentary constituency, said the observer.
AAP candidate and BJP rebel Sushant said: “The AAP is the only hope which can rid India of corruption.”
Sushant was suspended from the BJP’s parliamentary board in March 2012 on the complaint of the state unit. He demanded a narco-analysis test of Dhumal and his then cabinet ministers over corruption.
Shanta Kumar, known for his clean image and plain speak, has announced that he would not hold road shows or move in cavalcades for filing nomination papers.
“Now when I am contesting the election after 10 years I have realised that the expenditure on the election has increased manifold,” he said.
In the 2009 elections, the BJP won Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Hamirpur, while the Congress bagged the Mandi seat.
The hill state will go to the polls May 7.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacetd at email@example.com)