The Congress, which cleared its first list of candidates for Himachal polls, was in for a rude shock on Wednesday as one of its senior leaders crossed over to the BJP with barely a few months left for elections.
Harsh Mahajan, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee working president, joined the BJP in the presence of Union minister Piyush Goyal. A former Cabinet minister, Mahajan remained Congress MLA from Chamba assembly constituency thrice, winning consecutively in 1993, 1998 and 2003. He was also the president of the State Youth Congress from 1986 to 1995.
The development comes a day after the Congress decided to field all its sitting MLAs with the Central Election Committee chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi approving candidatures in 39 constituencies. These seats include 20 segments where the Congress has sitting legislators.
Interestingly, having earlier lost MLAs Lakhwinder Rana and Pawan Kajal to the BJP and fearing more desertions, the party was toying with the idea of ignoring the ‘One Family, One Ticket’ formula to accommodate disgruntled leaders. Despite assurances by the high command that the formula could be kept in abeyance for now, the crossovers haven’t stopped.
The first list of candidates included Vikramaditya Singh, son of late chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who will contest from Shimla (Rural). Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri will seek a re-contest from Haroli, while campaign committee chief Sukhwinder Sukhu has been given the ticket from Nadaun. Deputy CLP leader Harshwardhan Chauhan will fight from Shillai and senior leader Asha Kumari from Dalhousie.
The party has still not decided whom to field against Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur from Seraj constituency. There are reports that some leaders had suggested state unit president and Mandi MP Pratibha Singh should contest against the BJP to send the right signal to the cadre.
Though the party leaders claimed the first list had been finalised, sources said there have been rumblings within over some constituencies. Despite some leaders pitching for at least a few seats for Youth Congress, no decision has been arrived at yet.