Kangra, Sept 21: Stage is set for a close fight in the prestigious Kangra parliamentary constituency of Himachal Pradesh where the state's two seniormost politicians, former chief minister Shanta Kumar of BJP and HPCC president Sat Mahajan are contesting for the third time in a row.
In fact it is a decider for the two leaders who have won one election each and stakes are really high for their future.
Sat Mahajan had defeated Shanta Kumar in the 1996 polls by 37,524 votes but the veteran BJP leader avenged his defeat in 1998, troucing Mahajan by a margin of 59,235 votes.
The number of votes in this constituency, comprising 13 assembly segments of Kangra district and four segments of Chamba has increased from 8,96,183 to 9,28,231 with women voters outnumbering men by 20,897.
There are five candidates in the fray including two former MLAs Hardyal Chowdhary of Samajwadi Party and Pratap Chowdhary of Janata Dal (S), but virtually it is a direct contest between Shanta Kumar and Mahajan.
Shanta Kumar hadwon this seat in 1989 also but resigned after three months following his installation as chief minister and in the subsequent by-election, DD Khanooria of BJP won the seat defeating Vikram Mahajan of Congress by 77,737 votes in spite of low polling.
Shanta Kumar had defeated the sitting MP, Chandresh Kumari of Congress by 59,204 votes in 1989. Vijay Singh Mankotia of Janata Dal had polled 74,983 votes.
In 1991 elections, Khanooria retained the seat after defeating Chandresh Kumari by a narrow margin of 10,818 votes but he quit BJP after he was denied party ticket in 1996.
Vikram Mahajan had won this seat in 1967, 1971 and 1980 but had lost to Durga Chand of the Janata Party in 1977.
The caste-ridden constituency has a sizeable number of OBCs and both the Congress and BJP are making all efforts to muster their support.
While the previous Congress government did not accept the demand of the OBCs for 27 per cent reservation in jobs, the BJP too had dithered on this issue, thus, earning their wrath.With the Samajwadi Party and JD(S) candidates not in serious reckoning, the OBC votes remain divided.
However, with all the three OBC cabinet ministers in the Dhumal ministry being from Kangra district, BJP claims that majority of OBC votes would be cornered by Shanta Kumar.
Kumar, who started his campaign almost a month ahead of Mahajan was highlighting the Kargil victory, Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin and other local issues. He blamed the Congress for all the ills which plagued the country.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.