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|September 20, 1999||
Sukh Ram and BJP make a formidable combination in Mandi
V K Jalali in Mandi
Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Maheshwar Singh, scion of the erstwhile royal family of Kullu, is seeking re-election from Mandi, the second largest Lok Sabha constituency in the country covering 60 per cent of Himachal Pradesh. He is pitted against former assembly speaker and sitting MLA, Kaul Singh, of the Congress in a four-cornered contest.
One Independent and the Nationalist Congress Party candidate Ravi Thakur, a former Congress leader and Seva Dal president, are also in the fray.
Mandi was represented thrice (1984, 1991 and 1996) by former Union communication minister Sukh Ram, before he was expelled from the Congress.
Sukh Ram, whose Himachal Vikas Congress is now a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, is not in the race this time as the seat has been left for the BJP to contest.
Mandi is considered a Congress stronghold. The party has lost this seat only twice -- first in the 1977 Janata wave and then again in 1998 -- since Independence. The constituency comprises 17 assembly segments, of which eight are represented by the BJP, three by the HVC and five by the Congress.
Though the BJP wields considerable influence in certain areas of the constituency, particularly in Kullu district, party workers have been told to not take it easy. The BJP-HVC alliance and the Vajpayee charisma are the two factors that are likely to work in Maheshwar Singh's favour.
In 1998, Maheshwar Singh had defeated Pratibha Singh (Congress), wife of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, by more than 131,000 votes.
The campaigning, meanwhile, is just about hotting up. Banners, flags and posters adorn every conceivable place and party workers have fanned across villages to canvass support for their candidates.
The constituency is spread across the districts of Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul, Shimla and Spiti, besides Mandi. The electorate constitutes of divergent cultural, linguistic and socio-economic groups.
Women electors outnumber men in four assembly segments of Balh, Copalpur, Dharampur and Jogindernagar in the constituency which has more than 967,000 voters. The Kaa polling station in the Kinnaur assembly segment has just 14 voters.
The constituency has the largest number (1,712) polling stations. Of them, 162 have been identified as sensitive and 82 as hyper-sensitive.
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