Shimla, May 25 (IANS) Taking the lead, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Saturday formally launched its campaign for the June 23 Mandi parliamentary by-election in Himachal Pradesh.
"We have launched the campaign and our entire leadership, including (former chief minister) Prem Kumar Dhumal, will be touring the constituency," state BJP chief Satpal Satti told IANS.
The BJP central leadership Saturday announced that former state minister Jai Ram Thakur would be its candidate, whereas the ruling the Congress is yet to finalise its candidate for the seat.
The Mandi seat had fallen vacant following the resignation of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh after he was elected to the state assembly in December 2012.
Four-time legislator Thakur, known for his clean image, was the state president from 2007-09.
"Initially I was reluctant to contest the election as I had just contested one (assembly elections in November). But now the party has cleared my name, I will try my best to win the seat," he said.
Pratibha Singh, the wife of six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh - who also remained MP from Mandi from 2004-09 - is likely to be fielded again.
Congress leader and former telecom minister Sukh Ram, 84, belongs to Mandi town and commands influence in the constituency.
The Congress, which returned to the state just five months ago after defeating the BJP, is hopeful of retaining the seat, say political observers. Virbhadra Singh won the Mandi seat in 2009 by a margin of over 13,000 votes by defeating Maheshwar Singh, then a BJP leader. Both are now members of the state assembly.
Pratibha Singh had defeated Maheshwar Singh, who in February last year launched a new political outfit Himachal Lokhit Party, by 66,566 votes in 2004.
She had, however, lost to the four-time MP in 1999 by over 131,000 votes.
The Mandi parliamentary constituency, which includes the tribal-dominated assembly constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti, Kullu and some areas of Chamba district, is one of the largest constituencies in the country.
Among the 1.1 million voters in the constituency, over 150,000 are living in tribal areas.