Independent candidates may tilt Assembly polls amid BJP-Congress fight in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra

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With as many as 15 Assembly seats, Himachal Pradesh’s biggest battleground Kangra district is headed for a tight contest between the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. With polling just a few days away, the fight has heated up in the politically-significant district with visits by several national leaders to win the voters’ confidence.

The ruling BJP had won 11 of the 15 constituencies in 2017 and formed its government in the state. In 2012, the Congress had won 10 of the total seats and brought the party to power.

However, this time, the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which recently formed government in the neighbouring Punjab, has also entered the fray.

While the Arvind Kejriwal-led party has lost some steam ahead of polls, it is the independent candidates in Kangra district who are set to spoil the poll arithmetic for the mainstream parties.

Rebel candidates

Of the 15 constituencies, the BJP is facing dissidence in at least five. The party’s rebel candidates are fighting independently in Dharamshala, Kangra, Fatehpur, Dehra and Indora and could split its voter base. Infighting within the local units has dented its campaign, forcing the party to switch some of its senior leaders from their original bastion to a different constituency.

Forest minister Rakesh Pathania, and three-time MLA from neighbouring Nurpur, is fighting from Fatehpur, a seat the BJP has not won for the past two decades. Former Himachal BJP vice-president Kripal Parmar is also contesting independently from the constituency.

The party is also off to a jittery start in Dehra and Jawalamukhi, where it has swapped the seats of two of their senior leaders — former minister Ramesh Dhawala and senior leader Ravinder Ravi. Sitting MLA Hoshiyar Singh is fighting independently after being denied a BJP ticket. The BJP’s former MLA from Indora, Manohar Dhiman, its ST wing head Vipan Nehria in Dharamshala, too, have rebelled.

Anti-incumbency wave

The Congress, on the other hand, is riding on the anti-incumbency wave, and hoping to better its 2017 record in Kangra district, banking on its senior leaders and sitting MLAs. The party has also given a ticket to RS Bali, son of Congress Stalwart G S Bali, who passed away last year. The Bali scion is drawing support from voters, who say, they intend to pay off the debt of all developmental work his father did for the region.

While the BJP has centred its campaign on the work done by PM Modi, and the various schemes launched, including Ayushman Bharat and Ujjwala Yojana, and the state’s Himcare, the Congress is countering it with the rise in inflation and unemployment, and promises to provide one lakh government jobs to youth soon after forming the government and Rs 1,500 monthly allowance to women. Both the parties have promised to bring back the old-pension scheme – a key poll issue in the region.

National leaders’ presence

They say, the road to power in Shimla goes via Kangra. With few days left for the polls, several national leaders across parties are making their last-ditch efforts in this critically important district.

On Monday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressed rallies in Baijnath, while Home Minister Amit Shah addressed public meeting in Dharamshala last week. Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath has also been campaigning in the region with a rally in Jwalamukhi last week, and another in Palampur on Tuesday to support the BJP candidate, Trilok Kapoor, who was the state party general secretary.

The Congress has got an impetus with senior leader Priyanka Gandhi’s rally in Nagrota-Bagwan, where she brought most of the party candidates from Kangra district on the stage. Sachin Pilot, too, addressed voters in another constituency Sulah in support of local candidate Jagdish Sipahiya and Palampur for Ashish Butail.

The state goes to polls on 12 November. The results of the elections will be announced on 8 December.

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Independent candidates may tilt Assembly polls amid BJP-Congress fight in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra
Independent candidates may tilt Assembly polls amid BJP-Congress fight in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra
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