Record high voting percentage in Jubbal-Kotkhai and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, LPG and petrol may queer the pitch for the ruling BJP in three assembly bypolls. The counting of the votes is slated for Tuesday in Himachal Pradesh.
Chief Minister Jairam Thakur is pinning his hopes on Mandi –a parliamentary seat in his home district, to save his prestige even as the opposition Congress is predicting a favourable trend for the first time ahead of next year’s assembly polls.
This is the first time when the verdict of the bypolls (being held after the Covid-19 crisis ) is being viewed as the biggest turning point for the state’s bipolar politics after 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the BJP had swept all four Lok Sabha seats, polling the highest vote share of 69.11 per cent.
The BJP had also won two assembly seats of Rajgarh and Dharamshala simultaneously, giving a big booster dose to the incumbent BJP government, in less than one and half years of the Jai Ram Thakur government.
It’s a crucial test now for the Chief Minister, who has sought votes based on the BJP government‘s performance report of the last four years. The Congress, though a divided house, campaigned aggressively ahead of the polls, stressing the issue of soaring prices apart from lack of development in the state under Thakur .
What has alarmed the BJP is the high polling percentage in Jubbal-Kotkhai, (78.71 percent) –a sort of record in any bypoll. Another cause for concern for the BJP is Chetan Bragta, the part rebel who was denied a ticket by the BJP. Bragta has since campaigned vehemently against the party by playing the emotional card in memory of his late father Narinder Bragta, former horticulture minister, whose death has caused the vacancy.
Both Chetan Bragta and Congress’s two-time MLA Rohit Thakur, grandson of former Chief Minister Thakur Ram are being seen as strong contenders for winning the bypolls in the apple-driven constituency.
In two other constituencies of Arki (Solan)—a seat that fell vacant after the demise of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Fatehpur (Kangra), a bastion of Congress veteran late Sujan Singh Pathania, are also looking for a close finish with Congress more hopeful than the BJP. The seats were never BJP strongholds.
Arki has polled 65.15 per cent of votes while Fatehpur is at 66.07 per cent, quite a high participation of the voters in any bypoll.
Finally, The results in Mandi which polled a low 57.17 per cent voting, is likely to make a bigger difference to the ruling government. Former Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is putting up a battle against Kargil War veteran Brigadier (Rtd) Khushal Thakur – BJP’s best face, in this crucial seat.
There are a total of 17 assembly constituencies in Mandi and few like Seraj—Chief Minister’s stronghold, have recorded high polling percentages (69.75 per cent), bringing some much-needed hope for the BJP. Meanwhile, Pratibha Singh is banking on the influence of her husband Virbhadra Singh in areas like Rampur, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Bharmour –Pangi, Ani , Banjar and Karsog to get an advantage over the BJP.
The Congress is keeping its armoury ready for mounting its attack on the Chief Minister if the poll results go against the BJP. A bypoll victory for the BJP is crucial for Thakur s it will prove his detractors, both in the party and those from the opposition, wrong on their charges about his 'lack-lustre' governance in Himachal Pradesh.