Shimla: Battle lines have been drawn for multi-cornered contests with 459 candidates remaining in the field for 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly going to polls on November 4.
A triangular competition would be witnessed in Nadaun and Churah (SC) constituencies, while Rampur (SC), Sri Renukaji (SC) and Seraj and Jubbal and Kotkhai are posed for four-cornered contests. A maximum number of 16 candidates are in the fray from Dehra, followed by Dharamsala (14), Arki (11) and Mandi and Gagret (10 each).
Top contenders include Chief Minister PK Dhumal, former Chief Minister and HPCC president Virbhadra Singh and leader of the opposition in Vidhan Sabha Vidya Stokes -- are locked in a seven-cornered contest in Hamirpur, Shimla (Rural) and Theog. Dhumal is pitted against Natinder Thakur; Virbhadra is facing BJP greenhorn Ishwar Rohal, while Vidya Stokes is facing formidable rivals Rakesh Verma (BJP) and Rakesh Singha (CPI-M).
In the political landscape of Himachal, royals still hold a mighty sway on the hearts of voters and trying to cash on it the Congress has fielded a fair share of royals in its list of contestants in the hope of wresting power from BJP.
The saffron brigade on its part is playing the "aam aadmi" plank against Congress' royal challenge considering five out of six scions of erstwhile princely estates in the race for November 4 elections hail from Congress.
Led by Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur, top BJP leaders have pitched the electoral battle in the state as one between "rajas" and "aam aadmi".
They are heard in rallies slamming the Congress for continued dependence on royals for victory.
"While Prem Kumar Dhumal is the son of a farmer, the Congress needs 'rajas' like Virbhadra Singh to win elections,” Thakur says, addressing people across Himachal and directly attacking Virbhadra, former ruler of Rampur Bushahr family and ace royal in the fray from Shimla Rural constituency.
The BJP is represented in this newly carved segment by commoner Ishwar Singh Rohal, Chairman of the Shimla Block Development Committee.
While the royals are roughing it out on the roads of Himachal away from the comforts of their palaces ahead of the D-Day, the BJP is seen cautioning voters against "feudal submission" to Congress’ "princely" candidates led by Virbhadra.
The latter is hoping to create history by beating YS Parmar as the longest serving CM of Himachal. Parmar has been CM for one more year than Virbhadra.
While Shimla Rural has no royal challenger to counter Virbhadra, Kasumpti segment of Shimla district is witnessing the literal "battle royale". Here one erstwhile "king" – Congress’ Anirudh Singh from Koti royal estate – is pitted against another erstwhile "queen" – Jyoti Sen of Keonthal royalty, an independent.
The battle in Kasumpti has turned into a matter of prestige for the two families and the locals who owe their allegiance to the respective royalties.
Even more interesting is the fact that Jyoti Sen, challenging the Congress here, is the sister-in-law of Virbhadra's wife Pratibha Singh, former MP from Mandi, who was hoping to contest herself from Kasumpti but was denied the party ticket.
The ticket went instead to youngster Anirudh Singh, currently Shimla Zila Parishad chairman.
Jyoti Sen, who was also seeking the Congress ticket from Kasumpti, is the daughter-in-law of former Keonthal ruler Hitender Sen.
Balbir Singh Verma, an independent candidate from Chopal constituency, has declared the highest income among all candidates -- Rs. 1.41 crore -- in his income tax returns, according to a report prepared by the Himachal Pradesh Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Verma is followed by Congress leader GS Bali from Nagrota constituency who has declared an income of Rs 1.12 crore and Sanjay Kumar Guleria, an independent candidate from Jawali constituency who has declared an income of Rs 62.99 lakh, as per their IT returns.
As many as 163 candidates of the 445 candidates analysed by the Himachal Pradesh Election Watch have declared that they have never filed income tax returns.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has 40 such candidates, Bharatiya Janata Party has 11 candidates, Himachal Lokhit Party has 13 candidates, Trinamool Congress has 11 candidates and Congress has two such candidates.
Meanwhile, 60 companies of central paramilitary forces, including ITBP and CRPF, will be deployed to ensure free and fair elections at 7,253 polling booths on November 4.
25 companies of ITBP, 15 companies of SSB, 10 of CRPF and 10 companies of BSF would be deployed at the polling booths the state for 46,08,359 electors including 45,33,713 general electors and 74,646 service electors.