Nominations for the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, which closed Monday, include three Congress fathers and their sons as well as a father and a daughter, flying in the face of the party’s stated “One family, one ticket” principle.
The list also threw up a last-minute surprise with the nomination of Vidya Stokes, 90, contesting the polls for the 10th time. In a list largely dominated by seniors, the Congress has replaced only four sitting MLAs and half a dozen others from the last election. Its list has seven first-timers, out of 70. These include the three sons and the daughter, as well as Aditya Vikram Singh, late minister Karan Singh’s son, who is contesting from the same constituency, Banjar in Kullu.
The BJP, in contrast, has made as many as 21 changes, including 14 first-timers. The BJP has given tickets to six women while the Congress has fielded four — Stokes, Dalhousie MLA Asha Kumari (who is also Punjab in-charge), Rajya Sabha MP Viplove Thakur, and Champa Thakur.
Chief Minister Virbhadra’s son Vikramaditya Singh, 29, is contesting from Shimla Rural, which the chief minister represents. Virbhadra himself has chosen Arki in Solan district. Stokes had initially offered Theog to Virbhadra Singh, seeking to quit electoral politics, but opted to contest again after the CM chose Arki.
Minister Kaul Singh Thakur will recontest, while introducing his daughter Champa from Mandi; she replaces former minister Anil Sharma who has joined the BJP. Speaker B B L Butail and his son Ashish, and senior leader Amar Nath Sharma and his son Vivek too are contesting.
During the elections in neighbouring Punjab, which it won, the Congress had denied tickets to Capt Amarinder Singh’s family and to Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife. In Himachal, however, Virbhadra had publicly threatened to stay away from the polls if not given a free hand in distribution of tickets.
He is seen as having rewarded his long-time loyalists who have defended him against the BJP’s attacks following CBI raids and an ED case. The only minister who has not been renominated is Anil Sharma, son of former communications minister Sukh Ram. Another MLA, Neeraj Bharti, also chief parliamentary secretary, has vacated the seat for his father Chander Kumar, a former MP. The fray also includes former ministers and former MLAs.
The BJP’s most senior candidate is former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, and he is seen as one of the CM candidates while Union Health Minister J P Nadda is seen as another. The BJP has not named any leader for that post, despite persistent demand from within the party ranks to do so.
Like Virbhadra, Dhumal too has also changed his constituency. He is contesting from Sujanpur — where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a massive pre-poll rally in 2014. During the past five years, Dhumal has been the party’s face on the ground, waging a long battle against Virbhadra.
In Kangra, the largest district with 15 assembly seats and crucial to the formation of any government, the BJP has fielded a new face in Indu Goswami, state Mahila Congress chief, from Palampur. To accommodate her, the party denied the ticket to Praveen Sharma, a loyalist of BJP veteran Shanta Kumar, leading to some resentment.