A sweep by the Congress in Himachal Pradesh bypoll just a year ahead of the state assembly elections could not have come at a worse time for Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur who had hinged his party’s campaign to ‘clean and efficient governance’.
The biggest setback for the Chief Minister has come in the form of defeat in the Mandi parliamentary constituency – his home turf. Thakur had carried out an intensive campaign for his party candidate in the area realising the significance of these elections. But the defeat has unravelled the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with his government.
The price of inflation?
The poll debacle is expected to see some heads rolling but leaders on the ground blame the losses on two factors. One, the price rise and inflation and the other due to the lack of employment for youth in the state. While the Congress has retained its grip on Fatehpur and Arki, the real gain was the state’s apple heartland Jubbal-Kotkhai, which was held by the BJP. The seat fell to Congress after the BJP, at the last minute, withheld the ticket from Chetan Singh Bragta, the son of sitting MLA Narinder Singh Bragta whose death made the election necessary and fielded Neelam Saraik, who contested as an Independent candidate against Bragta in 2017.
Denied a ticket from BJP, he contested as an independent thus cutting into the vote share of BJP. In Mandi, leaders point out the sympathy factor toward Virbhadra Singh also worked in the favour of Pratibha Singh who won against the BJP candidate and Kargil war hero Brigadier (Retd) Khushal Thakur.
Even though he accepted defeat after the declaration of the results, he said, “The BJP fought hard, but the results are not in keeping with our expectations. We will definitely study the lessons learned in these bypolls and learn for the future for the 2022 election.” He even chose to downplay the emphatic victory of the Congress and said, “”Cannot say that because Congress won today, they will win 2022 election. We have seen often that a party that loses mid-term elections goes on to win the final election and vice versa,” he said.
But local leaders blame the defeat on the lack of coordination between party workers, leaders and the CM. “”The CM was the only face during the campaigning and moving around in the elections. Where were the party leaders?’’ said a senior BJP leader. He pointed out that not that the CM remains unapproachable, but it was made out to be a battle of his governance and that is why he has remained the face of the campaign and party workers and leaders preferred to stay away. Some leaders also pointed out that factionalism and dissidents among party workers not only in Mandi but in the Jubbal-Kotkhai assembly segment ensured that differences were visible even during the campaign.
“The party leaders and the workers need to put their act together if they want to see the BJP win in the assembly elections due next year-end,’’ said a senior BJP leader. Whether the loss would mean a change in the leadership as it happened in other BJP-ruled states remain to be seen, but leaders on the ground point out that the difference with Himachal is that Jai Ram continues to remain popular with the people of the state.
With inputs from News18