Sujay Mehdudia

KANGRA (HP): The prestigious Kangra parliamentary constituency comprising Chamba and Kangra districts could throw up a surprise when it goes to the polls on Wednesday.

Kangra district is known for deciding the fate of the party that would rule the hill State of Himachal Pradesh. In this Lok Sabha election, another factor of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who constitute nearly 20 per cent of the State’s population, will certainly play a major role in the victory and defeat of any party or candidate.

Although the ruling BJP is confident that the caste factor will not become a rallying point, the Congress is relying heavily on that card. BJP candidate and sitting MLA Rajan Sushant is a Brahmin while Congress candidate and MP Chander Kumar is an OBC who last time had defeated BJP stalwart and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar playing the OBC card to the hilt. While Mr. Shanta Kumar declined to contest thereafter and has since been elected to the Rajya Sabha, Dr. Rajan Sushant is considered a close aide of his.

Both the BJP and the Congress have been plagued by infighting but the aggressive nature of the BJP candidate has certainly become a talking point among the voters and party cadres.

Star campaigner

The star campaigner for the BJP is Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal who is confident that the people of Kangra and Chamba will go with the BJP as it had done tremendous work in the region during the last 16-month BJP rule. The constituency is vastly spread and includes the treacherous mountain terrain of Chamba district including the Pangi Valley. Many of the segments in this constituency are still snow-bound making them virtually out of the reach of the contesting candidates and party leaders for campaigning purposes. Dr. Sushant is banking upon the ruling party to see him make his maiden entry into Parliament. He has been trying to pacify the party cadres and leaders over the past few days and rally them around to consolidate his position.

However, his Congress counterpart is leaving no stone unturned to point out the chinks in the armour of Dr. Sushant. Mr. Chander Kumar, a former Minister and close confidant of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, is giving a tough challenge to his opponent. Being an OBC, he is confident that he would get strong support of the OBC community like last time as they will help him through with a second stint in Parliament. OBCs are mostly concentrated in the merged areas of Kangra, Una and parts of Hamirpur district. They have the influence to tilt the scales in nearly 20 State Assembly segments where their presence varies from 20 per cent to 70 per cent.

“Dr. Rajan Sushant will meet the same fate as Mr. Shanta Kumar. He will be defeated very convincingly by the people of this constituency,” Mr. Kumar adds.

Former Congress Minister Chandresh Kumari had won the seat in 1980 and 1985. Mr. Shanta Kumar has won the seat three times -- in 1989, 1998 and 1999. In between, the BJP won the seat in 1991and the Congress wrested it back in 1996.

The Congress candidate Chander Kumar won the seat in 2004 by a margin of 17,000 votes.