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BJP, Congress ready to begin
campaign in Himachal Pradesh
Onkar Singh in New Delhi | February 11, 2003 15:42 IST
Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani will on Wednesday kick off the Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for the assembly election in Himachal Pradesh by addressing public meetings in Kullu and Dharamshala.
Virender Tayal, a senior BJP politician in Himachal Pradesh, told rediff.com on telephone from Shimla that national leaders of the party would address a series of meetings in almost all districts of the state on February 12. "This would be like taking on the Congress party in a whirlwind fashion," he said.
In the first round, besides Advani, others who will address public meetings include party president M Venkaiah Naidu [Solan and Nalagarh], general secretary Rajnath Singh [Unna], Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj [Hamirpur and Barsar], V K Malhotra [Ponta, Doon and Nahan] and Madan Lal Khurana [Sunder Nagar and Mandi].
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal will address meetings in Kamarsein, Rohru and Rampur. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will also chip in once the campaign picks up.
The main poll plank of the party will be the threat to national security. Incidentally, Himachal Pradesh shares a border with Jammu and Kashmir.
The party leadership is also not ruling out playing the Hindu card and raising the Ayodhya issue.
The Congress, on the other hand, will have a low profile beginning.
"Congress president Sonia Gandhi will not kick-start the campaign in Himachal Pradesh. Other senior leaders will do so by addressing public meetings and rallies in all the districts of the state on Tuesday," AICC secretary in-charge of the state Satyajit Gaekwad told rediff.com on phone from Shimla.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will address a series of rallies in Solan along with senior leader Arjun Singh on February 11.
R K Dhawan will lead the campaign in Shimla while Dr Manmohan Singh will address meetings in Sirmor.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, J&K Deputy Chief Minister Mangar Ram Sharma and HPCC president Vidya Stokes will also take part in the campaign.
"I have been told to concentrate on twenty-five assembly seats adjacent to Punjab," Amarinder Singh told rediff.com in New Delhi.
The Congress campaign will focus on unemployment and corruption. It will also highlight the mismanagement by the Dhumal government and the debt trap, which has risen from Rs eight billion (Rs 800 crore) to Rs 150 billion (Rs 15,000 crore), said a senior party leader.
Sixty candidates withdrew their nominations on the last day for withdrawal leaving 408 candidates in the fray for the 68 assembly seats. This is 39 more than in the last election when 369 candidates tried their luck at the hustings.
There would be a direct contest between former chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his traditional BJP rival Khushi Ram Balnatah for the Rohru seat.
Other prominent leaders in the fray include Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, former Union minister for communications Sukh Ram, HPCC chief Vidya Stokes, Speaker Thakur Gulab Singh and BJP state unit president Jai Kishen Sharma.
As many as 38 candidates are contesting for the eight assembly seats in Shimla, the state capital.
Chopal assembly constituency has eight candidates, Kusumpati seven, Theog has five while Rampur, Jubbal-Kotkhari, Kumarasin and Shimla have four contestants.
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