Amid political dynasties pushing their legacy forward and loyalties shifting in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections will come to a close on Sunday.
The tourist state of Himachal Pradesh is one among the seven states and a union territory going to polls in the final phase today. The state includes four parliamentary constituencies, namely Mandi, Shimla, Kangra and Hamirpur, out of which Shimla is reserved for the scheduled castes and rest are general seats.
After Punjab, the state has the largest share of Dalits, constituting close to 30 per cent of its population. Sirmaur, Kullu, Mandi and Solan are districts with the highest Dalit population.
On the subject of women members of parliament in the state, the story is no different from most parts of the country. Since 1951, there have been only three MPs elected—Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur from Mandi-Mahasu seat in 1951, Chandresh Kumari from Kangra in 1984 and Pratibha Singh from Mandi in 2004 and 2013 by-polls. Though women account for 49 per cent of the electorate, this year only one woman, Nisha Kotach, is contesting from Kangra as an independent candidate.
Ashok Sharma, advocate general of Himachal Pradesh, admits to this fact and adds, “It’s not the case of gender discrimination in the state but of active participation, which in politics is important for political representation of women.”
Being a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastion for the last two Lok Sabha elections, the state is facing strong competition from opposition parties this time.
In 2014 general elections, all four seats were won by the BJP, while in 2009 all but one, Mandi, was saffronised. The two biggest political players in the state remain the Congress and BJP, which have won a majority of elections for decades now.
Mandi, the second largest Lok Sabha constituency in India in terms of area, includes 17 Assembly constituencies. Out of the 15 Lok Sabha elections in the past, 11 of them were won by the Congress. Though in recent history, the BJP has managed to make it a stronghold by winning 14 of the 17 assembly seats that fall under this Lok Sabha constituency in the last Assembly polls.
In Mandi, Aashray Sharma, grandson of former Telecom minister Sukhram, is contesting on a Congress ticket. He faces BJP’s Ram Swaroop Sharma and Communist Party of India’s (Marxist) Daleep Singh Kaith, among others.
This year the constituency witnessed aggressive campaigning from political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The current chief minister Jai Ram Thakur is a legislator from Seraj Assembly, a constituency that falls under Mandi. Elected as the first CM from his district in 2017, he’s fighting hard for the party to retain the seat.
Part of the political dynasty in the state is Aashray Sharma whose grandfather Sukhram has been titled a defector. 93-year-old Sukh Ram, probably the oldest campaigner in the state, has previously moved from parties starting from Congress to Himachal Vikas Congress to BJP and now back with the Congress party to push for his grandson’s entry into politics.
Claiming this to be his last election, he’s giving it his all by even publicly befriending his long-standing arch enemy and former CM of the state, Virbhadhra Singh, during the opening of his grandson’s campaign. He was also seen crying while asking for forgiveness for his past mistakes and seeking blessings for his grandson.
In 1996, former telecommunications minister Sukhram hit national headlines after his Delhi and Mandi residences were raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). With Rs. 1.16 crore recovered from his Mandi house and Rs. 2.45 crore from his Delhi house, it became one of the largest raids of currency notes in the country.
Consequently, Sukhram was dismissed from the Congress and later attempted to jump back in the political scenario by forming his own political party, Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC). In 2017, he joined the BJP and but left that team as well to only come back to the party he started off with.
Aashray’s father Anil Sharma, who until recently served as a cabinet minister in the Jai Ram Thakur government, was under pressure to quit when his father and son left the party to join the Congress. He was elected as a BJP MLA from Mandi Sadar Assembly seat.
Seeking re-election from this seat is sitting MP Ram Swarup Sharma. The former BJP state general secretary has his roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was elected by the BJP to contest against two-time MP Pratibha Singh, wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh of the Congress party. She was elected in the 2013 by-election in the state.
Contesting on a Congress ticket from Kangra is Pawan Kajal who was earlier part of the BJP but left the party before the 2017 Assembly elections after he was denied a ticket. In the fray from the BJP is Kishan Kapoor, who is the minister of food, civil supplies and consumer affairs in the state.
The 2014 polls here were won by Shanta Kumar, a three-time MP from the BJP who had contested for the fourth time and won. He was up against Congress’ Chander Kumar but won with a margin of 1,70,072 votes. Aam Aadmi Party fielded Rajan Sushant who managed to fetch a mere 3.06 per cent votes.
Hamirpur has another dynasty family pushing for legacy with BJP’s Anurag Thakur who is seeking re-election for the fourth time. He is the son of former CM Prem Singh Dhumal, who has represented the constituency multiple times in the past elections. Against him in the fray is Congress candidate Ram Lal Thakur, MLA from Sri Naina Deviji Assembly seat, which comes under the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency.
Except for a brief period between 1998 and 99 when the Congress won this seat, the BJP has held the seat since 1989.
In the fray here are former state minister Col Dhani Ram Shandil from the Congress, Suresh Kumar Kashyap from the BJP and Vikram Singh from the Bahujan Samaj Party, among others.
Excluding the last two Lok Sabha elections that were won by BJP’s Virender Kashyap, the Congress had consistently won this seat since 1984. In 1999, Dhani Ram Shandil from the Himachal Vikas Congress won with a margin of 46, 930 votes, followed by Congress’s Gangu Ram Musafir. In the general elections held in 2014, Shandil contested from the Congress and won with 58.86 per cent vote share.