Sidelined, tall BJP leaders of Mandi sit silent during campaigning period

IN HIMACHAL’S Mandi parliamentary constituency, where Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s prestige is at stake, the roles of former Union minister Sukh Ram’s family, and the sidelined, silent leaders of ruling BJP, have become crucial.

Former power minister in Jairam Thakur government and BJP MLA from Mandi Sadar Anil Sharma is not campaigning for party candidate Brigadier Khushal Thakur, even after Thakur and BJP state in-charge Avinash Rai Khana urged him to do so.

In Kullu district, ticket contender and former MP Maheshwer Singh too was sidelined. He is campaigning in favour of the BJP candidate, but in a limited area in the district.

Former state BJP president and former MLA from Banjar in Kullu district Khimi Ram too is not so active in this bypoll. A few days ago, state BJP in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna met both Maheshwar Singh and Khimi Ram and urged them to campaign.

There are four Vidhan Sabha constituencies in Kullu district — Banjar, Kullu, Manali and Anni. In the 2017 polls, BJP had won three seats except Kullu from where Congress MLA Sunder Singh Thakur won. Congress leader from Kullu Bhuvneshwar Gaur said “the silence of these tall leaders of BJP will definitely help Congress candidates”.

In Mandi district, there are ten Vidhan Sabha constituencies which were all won by BJP and an Independent, who later on supported BJP in the Vidhan Sabha. In the 2017 Vidhan Sabha election, Sukh Ram and his family supported the BJP and Anil Sharma, son of Sukh Ram, contested on a BJP ticket and won by the margin of more than 10,000 votes. He was given the post of power minister in the Jairam government.
But in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Anil Sharma’s son Ashray Sharma contested on a Congress ticket from Mandi constituency. Ashray and his grandfather Sukhram joined the Congress. After this, Anil Sharma was forced to resign from the ministership by the BJP. He was not allotted government accommodation in Vidhan Sabha.

Asked if he will campaign for BJP, Anil Sharma said he will sit silent, and if the Jairam government and BJP have something for him then he can go there among the public and can ask for votes. “I just wanted the assurance that in the next one year, in my constituency, all development projects will be initiated. I was told that a decision about this will be taken at the high command level,” he added.
Sharma said he will decide after these polls on what to do. “Before taking any decision I will go to my supporters and will get their consent,” he added.

Interestingly, Congress appointed Ashray Sharma as election observer for the Mandi parliamentary constituency. He said that in this election, nine Vidhan Sabha constituencies of Mandi district votes will matter. In Mandi Sadar and Karsog Vidhan Sabha segments, Congress is in a better position, he added.

Earlier he was reluctant to campaign for the Congress candidate but later, he was approached by Holly Lodge (the Shimla residence of former CM, late Virbhadra Singh), and he started to campaign. He said that he will follow the party’s instructions.
In Lahaul Spiti district, Tribal Affairs Minister Ram Lal Markanda too has been sidelined since the last one and half years. The portfolio of agriculture was taken from him, due to which there is much resentment among his supporters.

In Kinnaur district, BJP leader Tejwant Singh Negi, who contested last time on a BJP ticket and lost his seat with only 120 votes, too was sidelined by the government. Negi said he had taken a fall in August and is now on bed rest. “If I were medically fit I would definitely work for the party. I am helpless,” he said.

His supporters however said that even Negi’s pictures aren’t on the BJP’s posters.

There are 17 Vidhan Sabha constituencies under Mandi parliamentary constituency, out of which nine are in Mandi district, four in Kullu district. Apart from this, Rampur Vidhan Sabha segment in Shimla district, Bharmour in Chamba District and Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti are two others. Rampur, Bharmour, Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti are the strongholds of the Congress party.

A BJP insider said CM Thakur and his “most powerful minister” Mahender Singh Thakur are focusing on all nine constituencies of Mandi district.

Polling for three Vidhan Sabha constituencies Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal Kotkhai, and Mandi parliamentary will be held on October 30.

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