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Kangra holds the key to power

Kangra, Feb. 25: The battlelines are drawn. Campaigning for tomorrow’s polls ended on Monday and both the Congress and the BJP are leaving nothing to chance.

Kangra district is yet again set to witness the most contentious battle for numbers in the Himachal Assembly.

The district not only contains nearly one-fourth of the state’s population, but also 16 of the 68 Assembly segments. Any party that has won the majority of seats here has formed the government in the state. But it has, ironically, provided only one chief minister.

In 1990, the saffron party’s candidates emerged victorious in 13 of the 16 segments from the district, paving the way for Shanta Kumar to form the government.

In 1993, it was the turn of the Congress with 12 legislators. In the 1998 elections, 11 BJP candidates made it to the Assembly and helped Prem Kumar Dhumal form the government.

“Kangra will again decide who will form the government. With the situation still unclear due to the presence of rebels in both the Congress and the BJP, there is a likelihood that Himachal Pradesh is heading towards a hung Assembly.

“This time, however, the Congress has an edge here with no leader from the district projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate,” said Kangra Congress nominee Surinder Kumar.

The district has, however, produced only one chief minister in Kumar. But he has ruled himself out of the race this time. In 1998, Kumar had lost out to Dhumal — who hails from Hamirpur — after intra-party squabbles. Supporters claim that since he was denied chief ministership then, he has distanced himself from the post now.

The decision may cost the BJP the chance to form the government the second time.

Kumar’s decision has irked BJP supporters but even Congressmen are peeved that no senior party leader has been projected as chief minister from the district. “State party chief Vidya Stokes and Veerbhadra Singh both belong to Shimla district. Kangra has remained neglected by the leadership of both parties despite holding the key to government formation,” a Congress leader lamented.

All Congress chief ministers have come from old Himachal areas. While Singh and Ram Lal Thakur belong to Shimla, Y.S. Parmar hailed from Sirmaur. Twelve Kangra district Congress leaders had in 1993 demanded a chief minister from the lower belt in the state, but Singh was nominated for the third time.

The regional factor came into play after the hill areas of Punjab were merged into the state in 1966. As leaders from old Himachal continued to dominate the ruling Congress, discontent started brewing among partymen in the merged areas.

In a bid to upstage the established leadership, leaders of the new areas raised the issue of discrimination on regional grounds.

The BJP — then Jan Sangh, with a significant presence in these areas — took a cue from disgruntled Congressmen and exploited the regional sentiment. As the BJP’s influence largely remained confined to the new areas with the Congress maintaining its hold over the older ones, the people were divided on regional lines.

“The saffron party has started using the same tactic in the district in pockets where it feels it will not win. The BJP’s game plan is to whip up emotions as the going gets difficult for them here,” a Congress nominee from Jwalamukhi, Kewal Singh Pathania, claimed.

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