With exit polls predicting a photo finish in Himachal Pradesh between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, both are wooing rebels who contested the polls as independent candidates.
Both parties had faced heat from the rebels in the elections. Fighting to regain power, the BJP found the going particularly tough in Kangra district, which has 15 of the state’s 68 assembly seats.
Rakesh Pathania, the sitting BJP MLA from Nurpur constituency, contested the elections as an independent after being denied a ticket.
In the run-up to counting of votes on Thursday, Pathania tried to form a forum of rebels to drive home a hard bargain in lieu of support. Most rebels, however, held out, preferring to wait and watch.
Pathania had met chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on Monday, but later played hardball. “I did not pledge my support to him. All options are open,” he said.
Pawan Kajal, an independent candidate in Kangra, said, “Nothing can be said about support. Let the result be out.”
The Congress, which hopes to wrest power in the hill state, has also sent out feelers to rebels, said sources privy to the developments.
The party had faced strong rebellion in Poanta, Manali and Kullu. In Kasumpti, Vijay Jyoti Sen, a close relative of state Congress president Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha, rebelled against the party and contested as an independent.
With several exit polls giving the Congress a slight edge, key leaders are now making last-minute moves to mend fences with the rebels.
In the 2007 polls, three independents out of 60 had made it to the assembly, bagging 7.97% votes.