The Congress on Wednesday released its first list of 59 candidates for Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections 2017. The Congress’ list of candidates includes names of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhdra Singh and party heavyweight, Rajinder Rana. Virbhadra Singh’s son, Vikramaditya, who was being speculated as party candidate from Shimla Rural, did not figure in the first list.
According to the Congress’ list, Virbhadra Singh, who represented Shimla Rural in the outgoing assembly, will contest from Arki and the state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu will from Nadaun. Earlier, there was speculation Virbhadra may fight from Theog. Congress MLA Rajinder Rana has been fielded from Sujanpur. The party has fielded Rana against BJP leader and former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The list included many of the party’s known leaders including Asha Kumari (Dalhousie), Chander Kumar (Jawali), Kaul Singh Thakur (Darang), Viplov Thakur (Dehra), Gangu Ram Musafir (Pachhad), Col Dhani Ram Shandil (retd) (Solan) and Thakur Singh Bharmauri (Bharmour).
Other known faces in the party’s list include Ajay Mahajan (Nurpur), Kuldip Singh Pathania (Bhattiyat), Sujan Singh Pathania (Fatehpur), Sudhir Sharma (Dharamsala), Mukesh Agnihotri (Haroli), Vinod Sultanpuri (Kasauli), Rajesh Dharmani (Ghumarwin), Harshvardhan Chauhan (Shillai) and Harbhajan Singh Bhajji (Shimla).
Meanwhile, the BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) also announced a list of 68 candidates on Wednesday for the upcoming polls, with 15 new faces and six women. The BJP has tried to do the balancing act, giving due prominence to Dhumal supporters as well as accommodating some staunch loyalists of party veteran Shanta Kumar.
Former Chief Minister and opposition leader Prem Kumar Dhumal will be contesting the November 9 Himachal Pradesh elections from Sujanpur instead of his current assembly constituency of Hamirpur. Narendra Thakur, son of late BJP leader Jagdev Chand, will swap seats with him.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda, who is also the secretary of the CEC, announced the list after holding separate meetings with Dhumal at Sujanpur and Shanta Kumar in Palampur. His visits were aimed to resolve infighting among the party veterans on contentious seats. Kangra and former Congress leader Gurmukh Singh Bali, who was the transport minister in the Virbhadra Singh government, also found his name in the list.
Nadda’s damage control exercise proved rewarding for some, like former minister Krishan Kapoor, a Gaddi leader, who earlier did not figure in the draft list. State Mahila Morcha president Indu Goswami has been fielded from Palampur despite voices of dissent against her. Goswami is understood to have strong backing from the BJP high command, including party president Amit Shah.
The list has six women candidates, including Shraveen Chaudahry, a two-time Cabinet minister, who belongs to the OBC community. Vijay Jyoti Sen, sister-in-law of Pratibha Singh, wife of Virbhadra Singh, is the BJP candidate from Kasumpati in Shimla town.
Twenty six sitting MLAs, including Anil Sharma, who had quit the Congress last week, and independent MLA Balbir Verma have retained their constituencies. Sharma, son of senior Congress leader and Virbhadra Singh’s arch rival Pt Sukh Ram, will contest from Mandi. Verma, who had initially supported the Congress but later switched to the BJP upon Dhumal’s insistence, will represent Chopal.