Back with the leader he crusaded against

FP

Wherever he goes, Vijai Singh Mankotia finds himself explaining why he is back in the Congress and what his current stand is on alleged corruption involving party leaders.

Mankotia, who is contesting from Shahpur, retains his twin images: the constant party-hopper and the crusader against corruption. His comeback into the Congress follows after he had taken on Virbhadra Singh for alleged corruption. Both Virbhadra and Mankotia have since announced that it was the former who made the first step towards a patch-up.

Mankotia spoke about the patch-up at a press conference in Dharmsala too. PTI quoted him as saying that Virbhadra had called up saying he wanted to bury the past, and Mankotia responded that he was willing to walk 10 steps if Virbhadra walked two.

The Congress has wooed back former rebel Onkar Singh Rana too. Rana had contested from Shahpur in 2007 on a BSP ticket and most of his 18,000 votes are believed to have come from the Congress's traditional bank. This time, Rana is campaigning for Mankotia.

Mankotia, a retired major, is seeking to tap 11,000 ex-servicemen's votes in a constituency of 70,000. As chairman of the All India Ex-services League, he had hinted at opening a political front of ex-servicemen before he eventually returned to the Congress.

Sitting MLA Sarveen Chaudhary (BJP) too has an Army connection. Her husband is a brigadier.

Shahpur's 53 gram panchayats are mainly dominated by the Rajput community, to which Mankotia belongs. He has been campaigning 16 to 18 hours a day, starting 6 am and covering five or six gram panchayats.

On Thursday, he addressed a public meeting organised by Shahpur's ex-servicemen. "I am proud to have been a member of the armed forces," he said. "The time has come for soldiers to unite and uproot the corrupt system of politics." He took up a subject the audience would identify with: "The Congress has implemented a one-rank, one-pension scheme. A division bench of the Supreme Court questioned why ex-servicemen are being treated as beggars. I have been fighting for your cause and will continue to do so."

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