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Why is Virbhadra Singh's stronghold, Mandi keeping everyone guessing

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Shimla, May 09: It is a battle of prestige for former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh to retain the Mandi parliamentary seat in Himachal Pradesh, even though neither of them is actually in the fray.

Former Union Telecom Minister Sukh Ram and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur's prestige will be at stake in Mandi seat, which is going to the polls along with three other parliamentary seats of the hill state on May 19.

Virbhadra Singh

The BJP has fielded its sitting MP Ramswaroop Sharma, whose candidature was openly supported by Thakur despite Sukh Ram's grandson Aashray Sharma vying for the BJP ticket from the seat.

This seat has not spared even 'big' leaders in the battlefield. Right from former Union minister, Sukh Ram, former six-time Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, his wife, Pratibha Singh and senior leader, Maheshwar Singh, none could take the Mandi electorate for granted.

The 2014 Lok Sabha poll was an exception, when the people of Mandi unexpectedly preferred a novice BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma over then CM Virbhadra Singh's wife, sitting MP, Pratibha Singh.

Of the total 15 Lok Sabha elections that Mandi has seen, Congress won 11 times and the BJP four, precisely the reason why it is considered a Congress stronghold.

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Sukh Ram holds a mass base in Mandi and Kullu districts, but he needs Virbhadra Singh's support in other areas where his hold sway, said a senior party leader. Both are three-time MPs from Mandi.

The seat is also seeing a battle of supremacy between Sukh Ram and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur as both belong to Mandi district.

Mandi being the Chief Minister's home district, ensuring Ramswaroop Sharma's victory will be a matter of personal prestige for Thakur.

On the other hand, Sukh Ram too will leave no stone unturned to get his grandson win this seat. Ninty-one-year-old Sukh Ram, the former Union telecom minister in P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government, has represented Mandi thrice in the Lok Sabha -- in 1984, 1991 and 1996.

Sukh Ram's grandson Aashray has already been electioneering in Mandi for weeks, even before joining the Congress.

Sitting BJP MP Ramswaroop Sharma had won the seat by a margin of nearly 40,000 votes in 2014. He had secured 3,62,824 votes in 2014, defeating Congress candidate and Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh, who had got 3,22,968 votes.

One of the four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh, Mandi is the toughest and largest constituency in the state.

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