Shimla: It’s an ex-serviceman versus an ex-serviceman from Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla (reserved) seat. Both are aiming guns loaded with political salvoes and firing at each other.
One is a retired Colonel of the Indian Army, while another is former Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Indian Air Force. The former, Dhani Ram Shandil, 78, is a Congress candidate, while the latter is Suresh Kashyap, 48, from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both belong to the Koli community covered under the Scheduled Castes category.
Shandil is a two-time MP from Shimla, while Kashyap is trying his luck in the parliamentary polls for the first time. Both are sitting legislators and are not facing any criminal case. Interestingly, both Kashyap and Shandil rarely trade personal barbs and harp more on infrastructure and tourism development and country’s security agenda, a political observer said.
“I am a fauji (soldier) and he’s also a fauji. But there is difference of opinion among both of us. He belongs to a party that questions India’s surgical strikes and air strikes,” Kashyap told IANS on Sunday. He said the Congress had also questioned the evidence of the strikes and was compromising with the security of the country.
Undeterred, a well-mannered Shandil said: “It is not the Congress but the BJP which is politicising the air strike and trying to get a political mileage out of it.” “I am seeking re-election on the basis of my past performance as a two-time MP vis-a-vis BJP MP’s last two stints from this seat,” Shandil, who is more a statesman than a politician, told IANS.
He is banking on the national sentiments for having fought in the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. Firing pot-shots, Kashyap, who did post-graduation in English, Public Administration and Tourism Management, said being an ex-serviceman Shandil has to make his stand clear on abolition of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and the Sedition Act as mentioned in the Congress manifesto.
Shandil, who was a Cabinet Minister in the previous Virbhadra Singh-led state government and did doctorate in Political Science, took to politics when he joined the Himachal Vikas Congress, an outfit floated by ex-Telecom Minister Sukh Ram, who is again back in the Congress.
Shandil won two Lok Sabha elections from Shimla, once as a Himachal Vikas Congress candidate in 1999 and later in 2004 as a Congress nominee. BJP’s outgoing incumbent Virender Kashyap, 68, who got elected to Parliament for the first time in 2009 by defying the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance sweep in the northern states, was denied the party ticket this time.
The state’s ruling BJP has dropped its two-time MP Virender Kashyap as there was anger among the 2.50 lakh-odd voters belonging to the Hatti community who are settled largely in the trans-Giri area of Sirmaur over his failure to come out with a detailed action plan on granting them tribal status, a demand pending for five decades.
It found mention in the BJP’s election manifestos for the Assembly polls in 2009 and the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, but failed to be implemented. The main contest on this seat that covers Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur districts is between the BJP and the Congress.
BJP candidate Kashyap said demand for special status was raised by the BJP alone, both during the UPA and the NDA tenure. “We will address this issue on priority once re-elected,” he said. Promising speedy implementation, Congress candidate Shandil said: “Once voted to power, I will take their case to its logical conclusion.”
In the Lok Sabha polls, Himachal Pradesh has traditionally favoured the party at the helm in the state, except for 2014, when the BJP won all the four seats. In 2009, the BJP, which was then in power in the state, won three of the four Lok Sabha seats. Himachal Pradesh’s four Lok Sabha seats — Shimla, Kangra, Hamirpur and Mandi — will vote on May 19.