Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh. (File photo)
Shimla: The battle in the Himachal Pradesh political arena is without the titans this time.
For almost two decades, the electoral battle was seen as a war for supremacy between Congress leader and six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh and BJP's two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
But in these parliamentary polls it is for the first time that both of them are virtually 'out' of the battlefield.
Call it generational change or that they have been forced to retire from active politics. Virbhadra Singh, 83, and Dhumal, 73, have alternately been at the state's helm for over 20 years.
Also, the state politics revolved around personal issues of both the leaders, say political observers.
In these polls, they neither have any say in the ticket allocation nor is the poll campaign being carried out under their leadership.
While Virbhadra Singh is currently a legislator, his bate noire Dhumal has been marginalised in state politics after facing a humiliating defeat from his once political manager Rajinder Rana, now a Congress leader, in the 2017 Assembly polls.
For BJP leader and first-time Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, Dhumal is still a senior leader with vast political experience and elections are fought with collective efforts.
"I don't think there is anything wrong in seeking the advice of Dhumal-ji on any political issue," Thakur told IANS.
On getting a free hand from the party high command to lead the party in the general elections, Thakur, the five-time legislator in a row from 1998, said: "The elections are fought with collective efforts and with collective strategy. Being head of the state I would have greater responsibility to ensure victory of the party on all four seats.
In this election the spotlight has turned to Hamirpur rather than the three other seats in the state — Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Mandi — from where Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur is again in the fray.
Thakur, the former Board of Cricket for Control in India boss, is trying to win the seat for the fourth time in a row.
The Congress, which has won this seat only once in the past 30 years, has fielded former wrestler and five-time legislator Ram Lal Thakur.
Since his maiden victory in the parliamentary by-election in May 2008, the image of Anurag Thakur, 44, is more of a dandy who is busy in rubbing shoulders with the high and the mighty all the time, a senior BJP leader admits.
For this reason, Dhumal is devoting his maximum time and energy in the constituency only to ensure his son's victory, he said.
Contrary to him, Virbhadra Singh, who was lobbying to field Abhishek Rana, son of Congress legislator Rajinder Rana, to counter Anurag Thakur prefers to "stay away from the state politics" after his candidate was denied ticket by the party high command.
Rajinder Rana, who resigned as an independent legislator from Sujanpur to join the Congress and was once Dhumal's "election manager", defeated the BJP's chief ministerial candidate Dhumal in the 2017 polls.
Moreover, Virbhadra Singh is also not happy with the party by fielding a turncoat from the Mandi, the seat he represented in Parliament thrice, admitted a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.
Setting aside speculation, a confident state Congress unit President Kuldeep Singh Rathore told IANS Virbhadra Singh would be the party's star campaigner like in the previous elections.
"In the past he was busy with the wedding of his son (Vikramaditya Singh) and appointment of his daughter (Abhilasha Kumari) as a member of the Lokpal. Now he is free and will soon launch his state-wide campaign," Rathore added.
Political observers say personal attacks have been pushed to the background by issues like development and people-centric policies in most of the election rallies by both the national parties.
Voting for the four Lok Sabha seats, which will go to the polls May 19, will prove the popularity and supremacy of both arch-rivals versus development and no witch hunting.