In a surprise twist on last day of filing of nominations, senior Congress leader Vidya Stokes decided to take another plunge in the poll battle from Theog, her political bastion since 1974. Stokes will turn 90 a week before poll results. She is now the oldest candidate contesting polls in Himachal Pradesh.
On Sunday, Congress had cleared the Theog ticket for Deepak Rathore, a young aspirant believed to close to AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi. But, the name was not acceptable to Stokes, who is understood to have spoken to Rahul Gandhi and lodged her protest.
Her close aides said that Stokes threatened to revolt and contest as an Independent candidate if the ticket was not changed by Monday, the last date of filing of nominations.
Taking Stokes threat seriously, the party decided to fulfil her wish, sending a major surprise in the area where the BJP had fielded Rakesh Verma, a three-time MLA.
Deepak Rathore, whose name was announced as candidate for Theog, has also filed his nomination papers, even as a letter of authority, which is submitted with nomination papers and signed by PCC president Sukhwinder Sukhu, was issued to Stokes on Monday morning. While Rathore filed his nomination papers early in the morning, Stokes filed them at 2 pm. Interestingly, while Rathore’s name was announced, he was never issued the letter of authority by the party.
The party’s decision came hours after Stokes went to hospital complaining of ill health and stress. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had earlier decided to skip contesting from Theog. He had instead opted for Arki in Solan district, putting Stokes in a tight spot over her future.
Stokes had written to Sonia Gandhi recommending a ticket for Virbhadra Singh from Theog calling him the only suitable and winnable candidate. She had also announced her retirement from electoral politics.
However, the veteran leader had firmly told the party that she had vacated the seat for Virbhadra Singh voluntarily, adding that in case of his refusal to contest from there she had a right to suggest a candidate of her choice or herself contest the seat.
“It’s my choice to contest the seat. I have done so much work in the area, not only now as a Cabinet minister, but earlier too,” she said.
This will be her 11th state Assembly election. Of the 10 elections contested so far, she has won eight and lost only two. Stoke has won last three Assembly elections she contested from the seat.