Virbhadra's son eyeing Cong ticket, Sukhram's grandson BJP's for Mandi

Union Minister Sukhram's grandson Aashray Sharma is eyeing a BJP ticket ticket for Mandi Lok Sabha seat here with Himachal's former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's son Vikramaditya Singh hoping to get that of Congress for the 2019 polls.

Neither the ruling BJP nor the Congress, however, has yet finalised their candidates for any of the four Himachal Lok Sabha seats seats - Shimla, Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra.

In a recent Facebook post, Shimla Rural MLA and a scion of erstwhile princely state Bushahar, Vikramaditya Singh, said, "I have not applied for ticket from Mandi seat as my father has taught me to control my ambitions."

"If the Congress leadership gives me this responsibility, I am ready for that as my father has also taught me to fight for the party and the country in every situation," he added.

When contacted, Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Kuldeep Singh Rathore, however, told PTI that no name has been shortlisted so far by the screening committee for any of the four Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The five-member committee is headed by AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal.

The panel is to meet soon to shortlist candidates for the central election committee (CEC) to take a decision, Rathore added.

Former Union Telecom Minister in PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government, Sukhram's grandson Aashray Sharma has not only expressed his willingness to contest from Mandi but has even begun electioneering here.

"I have already campaigned in 15 out of 17 assembly segments except Seraj and Jogindernagar falling under Mandi parliamentary constituency," Sharma told PTI.

BJP's Himachal unit president Satpal Singh, however, said, "Sharma is not even a primary member of the party. What we have to say, we will say when we will be called at Delhi (by senior BJP leaders for parliamentary board meeting)."

Responding to Singh's statement, Aashray retorted, "If I am not member of the BJP, my father Anil Sharma (who is a minister in Jai Ram Thakur-led BJP government in Himachal) Pradesh too is not a BJP member."

"I along with my father met (BJP president) Amit Shah in Delhi in October before the Himachal assembly elections in 2017 and joined the BJP," he added.

"It was for the first time in the Himachal politics that the BJP performed so well in Mandi in last assembly election after our family, having its hold in this region, joined the BJP just 21 days before the state polls," he claimed.

Sharma expressed optimism that he would get a BJP ticket from Mandi.

"The party will surely honour his family, which helped the BJP's perform better in Mandi district. I'm fully optimistic about the party allocating me a ticket for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat," he said.

"Moreover, I am campaigning on directions of (senior party leaders from) Delhi. Nowadays the winnability is the sole criteria all parties in selecting candidates. All surveys too have also gone in my favour," he claimed.

The sources, however, say the state BJP is in favour of reallocating the seat to its sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma, who had won the seat by a margin of nearly 40,000 votes.

He had secured 3,62,824 votes in 2014, defeating Congress candidate Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh, who had got 3,22,968 votes.

Sukhram, 91, has represented Mandi in Lok Sabha thrice in 1984, 1991 and 1996, Virbhadra Singh thrice in 1971, 1980, 2009 and his wife twice in 2004 and 2013.

Political observers here say if Aashray Sharma and Vikramaditya Singh are respectively fielded by the BJP and the Congress, Mandi is sure to see a keen contest between the two.