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Posted at: May 19, 2019, 8:07 AM; last updated: May 19, 2019, 8:07 AM (IST)

Mandi contest to be a cliffhanger

Dipender Manta

Tribune News Service

Mandi, May 18

It is this prestigious parliamentary constituency, which has thrown up the most colourful and keen contest with the fight not being between two candidates, but between Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and Congress leader Sukh Ram.

The contest is primarily between BJP candidate Ram Swaroop and Congress candidate Ashray Sharma, grandson of Sukh Ram, despite the presence of CPM candidate Daleep Kaith in the fray.

The surprise entry of Ashray into the contest at the last minute when he switched sides from the BJP to the Congress for the ticket, changed the entire dynamics.

Being the hometurf of Thakur, he is working overtime to ensure Ram Swaroop, who is facing anti-incumbency and not an impressive performance, wins as the election outcome will be a clear reflection on his leadership. The BJP, which initially thought the contest would be a cakewalk, has turned out to be much more difficult, with Sukh Ram and his family making the going tough for the BJP.

Though development issues like establishment of salt mines at Darang to generate employment, construction of a tunnel at the Jalori Pass to provide all-weather connectivity between Kullu and Anni

Nirmand blocks and Bhubhu Jot tunnel to reduce the distance between Kullu and Dharamsala by 57 km are back in focus, yet the BJP is primarily banking on Modi to see them through.

On the other hand, Ashray is hoping to sail through with the blessings of former CM Virbhadra Singh and his grandfather’s stature and old association. The contest has become keen, with the Congress putting up a spirited fight. Ashray’s victory will to a large extent depend on whether he gets whole-hearted support of Virbhadra, who has been an arch rival of Sukh Ram. Also, his shifting loyalties could go against him, but the political legacy of the family could turn out to be Congress’ strength.

Expansion of the Pathankot-Jogindernagar railway line to Mandi and Leh-Ladkah has been hanging fire for the past many years and has become a poll issue.

Mandi has been a stronghold of the Congress since 1952 and out of 16 elections held so far, the BJP has won only four. BJP candidate Maheshwar Singh, scion of Kullu royal family, won the elections in 1989, 1998 and 1999, while Ram Swaroop Sharma (BJP) wrested the seat in 2014 defeating

Pratibha Singh, wife of Virbhadra. Ram Swaroop Sharma is seeking votes on development works done by him, while Ashray is contesting on his vision of development with thrust on strengthening tourism infrastructure and job creation.

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