On a day the filing of nomination papers began in Himachal Pradesh, with the state going to polls on May 19, three-time BJP MP Suresh Chandel joined the Congress on Monday.
Chandel had won the Lok Sabha polls from the Hamirpur seat in 2004, 1999, and 1998 as a BJP candidate. After Chandel, the seat has been represented in the Lok Sabha by BJP’s Anurag Thakur.
Chandel had been in talks with the top Congress leadership, hoping to be fielded from Hamirpur as a Congress candidate. However, the Congress recently named Ram Lal Thakur, the party MLA from Sri Naina Deviji state Assembly seat, which falls under the Hamirpur Lok Sabha constituency, as its candidate from Hamirpur.
Even after being denied candidature from Hamirpur by the Congress, Chandel, who joined the party in New Delhi on Monday, said, “Before deciding to join the Congress, I spoke to the chief minister (Jai Ram Thakur) asking him about my role in the government and in the party. I didn’t get any clear answer. I want to work for society, so I joined the Congress. April 25 onwards I will campaign for the Congress (in the state).”
With Chandel’s support, Congress is now hoping for a close contest in Hamirpur.
Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Kuldeep Singh Rathore said, “Chandel ji, (Congress in-charge for Himachal Pradesh) Rajani Patil ji and I met (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi ji today (in New Delhi). Chandel ji is a very senior leader and he joined the Congress today without any precondition.”
“Chandel ji’s support to us has definitely strengthened us… it will help make the contest in Hamirpur challenging for the BJP,” Rathore said.
State BJP general secretary Chander Mohan Thakur, who is managing the election campaign in the state, said, “He (Chandel) has been on a political window-shopping spree for some time now. Him joining Congress will have no adverse effect on the BJP.”
Other than Hamirpur, Mandi is the only Lok Sabha constituency in the state where an interesting contest is expected between Congress candidate Aashray Sharma and BJP’s Ramswaroop Sharma. While Ramswaroop is a sitting BJP MP from Mandi, for Aashray this will be his first ever election contest.
After being in the BJP for over a year, former Union minister Sukh Ram and his grandson Aashray rejoined the Congress on March 25. Aashray was named the Congress candidate from Mandi.
After expressing his inability to campaign for the BJP in Mandi, Aashray’s father Anil Sharma, who is the BJP MLA from Mandi state Assembly seat, recently resigned from the Cabinet.
BJP, which has announced its candidates for all four Lok Sabha seats and started campaigning much before the Congress, already has an upper hand. The BJP had won all four Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 polls.
The party also formed government in 2017 state Assembly polls after winning 44 of the total 68 seats in the state Assembly. The BJP, which is asking for votes for the upcoming polls in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the work done by his government, is expecting a clean sweep this time too.
The Congress, whose main challenge, according to its in-charge Patil, is combating Modi’s image, has been aiming at resolving the infighting and showing a united face to deter voters from voting for the BJP.