The resounding victory of Congress candidate Pratibha Singh in the Mandi byelection has reaffirmed chief minister Virbhadra Singh's popularity in the state.
While the overwhelming victory is likely to give boost to the Congress ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the election outcome has snubbed the detractors of the chief minister, who were skeptical of his government's functioning.
Pratibha Singh trounced Bharatiya Janata Party's Jairam Thakur with a margin of 1.36 lakh votes.
Barring Seraj assembly segment, the home turf of Jairam Thakur, Congress candidate secured lead in all other assembly segments. Thakur, who is a four-time legislator from Seraj, led by 2,556 votes.
The Congress secured an impressive lead of 24,099 votes from Rampur - home assembly segment of the chief minister.
The voters in the tribal constituencies of Bharmour, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti added to the victory margin of Pratibha Singh.
From Bharmour, the Congress secured a lead with 16,117 votes, while rain-ravaged Kinnaur voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. The polling in Kinnaur was deferred by three days as a majority of polling stations had lost connectivity after massive landslides had damaged roads across the district.
“Pratibha Singh's triumph is the victory of ideology and leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi,” said the chief minister, who is camping in New Delhi.
“The victory reflects that people have expressed their faith and confidence in the programmes and policies of the state government and said this victory would further strengthen the resolve of the state government for ensuring the overall growth of the entire state irrespective of caste, creed, religion or region,” he added, while thanking the electorate and Kinnaur in particular.
With its prestige at stake, the Congress government had put its entire strength to win the elections. Singh not only ensured that his cabinet colleagues worked dedicatedly to improve the Congress prospects in the elections, but also campaigned hectically across the length and breadth of the Mandi parliamentary constituency, which is the second largest in the area after Barmer in Rajasthan.
The chief minister himself entered Lok Sabha in 1962 from Mahasu. Virbhadra Singh had contested four elections from Mandi and lost once. His wife Pratibha Singh represented Mandi parliamentary seat once in 2004, when she defeated BJP's Maheshwar Singh with a margin of 66,566 votes. Maheshwar had defeated Pratibha by a margin of 1.32 lakh votes in 1998.
Elections were also seen as test for state Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu. Sukhu had not only deputed the state officers-bearers to work in different constituencies, but had covertly sent election observers to keep a watch on Congress leaders.
“The Congress victory is mandate for policies and programmes of our government,” said Sukhu.
Just at time when questions were being raised about the functioning of the Congress government, Pratibha Singh's victory had come as a shot in the arm for the chief minister.
On the other hand, the impressive victory is warning to the faction-ridden BJP. The saffron party will have to work harder to improve its prospects. “The election results go mostly in favour of the ruling party, but we will still introspect the reasons behind the defeat,” said Satpal Singh, state BJP chief.