New Delhi/Shimla, April 22 : In a setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Himachal Pradesh, its three-time MP Suresh Chandel, who was caught in a sting operation in cash-for-query scam in Parliament in 2005, joined the Congress on Monday.
He belongs to Bilaspur district under the Hamirpur parliamentary segment.
Chandel, 59, an archrival of Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda, was keen to become a Congress nominee from Hamirpur against sitting BJP MP Anurag Thakur.
He joined the Congress in New Delhi in the presence of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and state party in-charge Rajni Patil.
"It is wrong to say that Chandel is a tainted politician. Just let bygones be bygones. Over the years, he has made mass vote bank owing to his low profile and social work," a senior Congress leader told IANS in Shimla.
He said Chandel is the only politician in the constituency who has the capacity to counter the BJP in the bastion.
Eleven MPs, including Chandel, were expelled from Parliament on December 23, 2005, for accepting money to raise questions in the House.
Political observers believe Chandel's down-to-earth manoeuvring makes him quite a hit with the masses.
Chandel, who unsuccessfully contested the 2012 Assembly polls as a BJP nominee for the first time after the cash-for-query scam, has been quite active in the area for more than a decade.
The topic of corruption is on the backburner and voters are more concerned about local issues, said a political analyst.
Indications of Chandel joining the Congress were clear last month with the decision of Congress state unit President Kuldeep Rathore to suspend five leaders who were openly opposing the entry of Chandel into the Congress.
The Congress has won the Hamirpur seat only once in the past 30 years.
It is learnt that Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal met Chandel separately to placate him.
This constituency has been witnessing more aggressive campaigning than for three others in the state -- Shimla (reserved), Kangra and Mandi seats.
Since his maiden victory in the parliamentary by-election in May 2008, sitting MP Thakur, who was re-elected as Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association President in 2016 for the fourth time in succession since 2000, has been targeted by the rivals for being high-profile and jet-setting, and for rubbing shoulders with high and mighty.
The Congress has pitted former wrestler and five-time legislator Ram Lal Thakur against Anurag Thakur.
Ram Lal Thakur has represented the state in kabaddi six times at the national-level and remained its captain thrice.
Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls for the four Lok Sabha seats on May 19.