The BJP had a comfortable win in Himachal in the last Lok Sabha elections with landslide 69.11 per cent vote share. Now, with two upcoming Assembly bypolls in the state, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is hoping to clear a popularity test of sorts just ahead of his government’s second anniversary. It helps that the Congress, after its decimation in the Lok Sabha elections, is not posing much of a challenge.
The two seats, Pacchad in Sirmaur and Dharamsala in Kangra, had fallen vacant after MLAs Suresh Kashyap and Krishan Kapoor got elected to the Lok Sabha from Shimla (Reserve) and Kangra seats.
With the Congress still in the doldrums, the BJP is not expecting much of a challenge this time. The opposition party is passing a bad phase with internal squabbles and a leadership crisis even as its base erodes across the state.
However, BJP too has some internal issues of its own. For instance, there has been an open rebellion in Pachhad over the party’s choice of candidate. While Thakur, along with IPH minister Mohinder Singh, were able to mollify Ashish Sikta, a former AVBP activist, former Zila Parishad member Dayal Pyari is contesting as an independent. She is being seen as a threat to BJP’s new face Reena Kashyap.
The Congress has fielded seven-time MLA Gangu Ram Musafir, a Dalit leader and former Speaker. But Musafir has caste calculations working adversely against him and it seems BJP is at the moment more worried about Pyari.
The going is not smooth for the Congress in Dharamsala either. The main fight is between BJP’s Vishal Nehria who is pitted against Congress’s Vijay Inder Karan. Both are from the dominant Gaddi community which MP Krishan Kapoor also represents. Kapoor had won Kangra seat by a record margin of 4.77 lakh votes and scored a lead of 18,000 votes just in Dharamsala and that too despite party senior Shanta Kumar being virtually sidelined.
But Congress’ prominent local face and former minister Sudhir Sharma is not even backing the party campaign.
Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri said Sharma’s moves are not favourable to the party prospects. “We are trying to bring him back into the fold. His support is undoubtedly important to put up a fight against the BJP, which itself has problems on account of poor governance, the negative sentiment in Kangra and a sulking sitting MP Krishan Kapoor,” he said.
Sharma is not Congress’s only problem. Rebel candidate Rakesh Chaudary has a sizeable influence in the OBC community.
BJP’s pitch will be very clear though. “Why should we not bank on Modi? Now, the world is watching Modi and India needs such a performing, result-oriented and popular figure. He has delivered well on all fronts. Some of his flagship schemes like Jandhan, Ayushuman Bharat, Kisan Samman Nidhi, Ujjawal Yojna and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have become major gamechangers,” said BJP state chief Satpal Satti.
Satti is confident people will support the BJP to reap benefits of such schemes. But he accepts that the state government's performance will also be a deciding factor.
Meanwhile, the campaign has started slowly picking up in both the constituencies as the BJP has moved in all cabinet ministers, MLAs and party leaders. The Congress lacks much both in terms of resources, man-management and effective campaigners leaving the candidates to fend themselves .
There are 73,909 votes in Pachhad and 81,153 in Dharamshala. Voting will be held on October 21 and results will be announced on October 24.