Kangra: The picturesque and tranquil backdrop of the Dhauladhar ranges belies the underlying political tension as three heavyweights from Congress, BJP and AAP slug it out for this Lok Sabha seat that goes to polls on May 7.
In a contest where 12 candidates are in the fray, two- time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar of BJP, Congress` Chander Kumar, winner here in 2004, and Aam Aadmi Party`s (AAP) Rajan Sushant, who won in 2009 on a BJP ticket but resigned from the seat this January, are the three leading contenders.
While corruption tops the agenda in Kangra, which has over 12.4 lakh electors, local issues like expansion of railway network and development of the region into a tourism hub find mention even as most debates inevitably veer towards the presence or absence of the `Modi-wave`.
For Shanta Kumar, who has won three times in the past from the seat which comprises 17 assembly constituencies, stakes are high as he bids to make a comeback of sorts.
Congress has won the seat seven times while BJP has tasted success here on five occasions since 1962.
For Chander Kumar, it is a fight of a different kind as he attempts to win the seat again, given the people`s discontent over UPA`s performance.
As for AAP`s Sushant, who jumped the ship from BJP after raising his voice over corruption issues against the party`s previous regime in the state led by Prem Kumar Dhumal, his task is cut out to convince voters that the new outfit is the best option in the `fight` against corruption.
After being suspended from BJP in 2011 for six years following which he quit the party and as its MP, Sushant still holds a grudge against the saffron party.
"There was a similar kind of overconfidence in Delhi also, where they (BJP and Congress) counted us (AAP) out, but see how people proved them wrong. The same is going to happen in Himachal also. People are looking for change, they are fed up of misrule of both Congress and BJP," Sushant told PTI.
Raising AAP`s pet topic, he said, "Corruption is a big issue, no doubt about it. I have challenged Shanta Kumar to an open debate on the issue but he is not willing to take it up."
BJP`s Shanta Kumar dismissed the AAP challenge, saying, "AAP is out of the contest here. This is a direct fight between Congress and BJP."
Taking on Congress, he said, "People have seen how corrupt the central government has been in the last 10 years. So, there is an undercurrent of change across the country and Himachal is no different than the rest of India in sensing this."
Countering the allegations by his BJP rival, Chander Kumar said, "Congress has denied tickets to leaders who were found to be guilty in corruption cases. Our party has kept out even leaders like Kalmadi who faced such charges but look at BJP, they have given tickets to tainted politicians like Yeddyurappa and then they talk about corruption and scams."
Seeking to turn attention to development, he said, "Our major focus will be to convert the Pathankot-Mandi rail line into a broad gauge one and extend it to Leh.
"Secondly, we want to develop tourism infrastructure in the Kangra-Chamba region. We would also work to reduce the distance between the two areas by constructing tunnels."
AAP`s Sushant also said his party would work towards developing Kangra-Chamba as a tourist destination and increase the railway network in the state.
"In fact, I was the one who raised the issue of bringing five more railway lines to the state in Lok Sabha," he claimed.
Asked about the impact of BJP`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on the psyche of voters, Sushant said, "There is no Modi wave here. Himchalis know about him because he has worked here as the BJP in-charge."
Expressing similar views, Congress` Kumar said, "It is just a hype created by media. Some corporate houses are funding this campaign but it will not help."
BJP candidate Shanta Kumar offered a diametrically opposite view. "There is Modi wave even in the remotest corners of the state... The rallies by Modi have been a huge success... These are indications that we are on a strong footing in the state."