The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Family feud jitters for BJP and Congress

Dharamshala, Feb. 24: The outcome of this election will be very bitter for some of the political clans in Himachal Pradesh. Political ambition has triggered rebellions in at least three prominent families with bhanjas, bhateejas and devars taking on their mamas, chachas and bhaabis in this election.

In the Kullu constituency, bhanja Dharamveer Dhami has challenged his mama, Raj Kishore Gaur, the official Congress nominee. It is a revolt against Gaur’s “cheating”.

Gaur, a two-time Congress legislator who lost last time, had apparently promised to anoint Dhami his successor this time. He went to Delhi with the assurance of securing the ticket for Dhami but returned with the nomination for himself, presumably at the behest of state Congress chief Vidya Stokes.

Dhami’s friend Kishore Chand says: “It was outright cheating. It was no way to treat the nephew who managed Gaur’s elections in the past and nursed the constituency for almost 30 years.” Dhami was not prepared to wait any longer for his uncle to retire, not after he failed to keep his promise. He has jumped into the fray as a rebel candidate.

The other day, veteran state Congress leader and former chief minister Veerbhadra Singh made known his soft corner for Dhami. “I feel sorry for him. He should have got the ticket,” he was quoted as saying.

Over the years, Dhami has openly identified himself with the Congress strongman. Though Dhami is yet to enter the Assembly, Veerbhadra had made him chairman of the state transport corporation. He has been president of the block development council and the Kullu block Congress committee for nearly 30 years.

In the Joginder Nagar constituency in Mandi, Speaker of the dissolved Assembly Ghulab Singh Thakur is facing trouble from within the family. His bhateeja, Surinder, is contesting as the Congress’ nominee against him.

Like Dhami in Kullu, Surinder has been Ghulab’s conscience-keeper in the constituency for years. Ghulab has often deviated from the family’s traditional Congress loyalties, seeking power and position with the Janata Dal and the BJP. Yet Surinder put up with his chacha. Last time, Ghulab was elected on a Congress ticket and then went on to accept the speakership to prop up the Prem Kumar Dhumal government.

In the hill town of Joginder Nagar — 200 km northeast of Shimla — people are almost unanimous that Ghulab, now a BJP candidate, will have problems repeating his narrow victories of the past. Ghulab is looking to his “friend” and leader of the Himachal Vikas Congress, Sukh Ram, to help him out. Sukh Ram did a round in the constituency the other day — on the face of it, he was seeking support for his party nominee.

Perhaps the most fascinating kin-contest is on in chief minister Dhumal’s home district of Hamirpur. In the Hamirpur constituency, the fight between bhaabi and devar is bitter and has created bad blood in the family of the late BJP legislator, Jagat Singh Thakur.

After five years of dispute within the family over political succession following his father’s death, Narinder Singh Thakur decided it was time to settle the issue on the ground with his elder brother’s wife, Urmila Thakur, who was renominated by the BJP. The feud has left Dhumal red-faced as he had backed Urmila’s claim, not anticipating that Narinder would revolt. Urmila has hardly emerged a popular legislator though Dhumal had made her a parliamentary secretary. Narinder, a local advocate, has strong contacts.

For the Congress, the family fight has provided an opportunity to make a dent in Dhumal’s bastion. In the last elections, the Congress had failed to win a single seat out of the five in the district. Thanks to the presence of a BJP rebel in Narinder, its nominee, Anita Verma, could walk away with the Hamirpur seat. So much so, as the campaign reached the final stages this week, Dhumal found it compelling to spend a day in Hamirpur in a bid to ward off the devar’s threat to his bhaabi.

Contests like the ones in Hamirpur and Joginder Nagar do not seem to be helping the BJP make a late surge and improve its prospects in the February 26 elections. Not when the party leadership itself acknowledges that its nominees in many seats are just holding on to narrow leads over their Congress rivals in areas considered BJP strongholds.

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