The by-polls in two assembly segments in Himachal have turned out to be a even battle for ruling BJP and Congress, the results of which came on Tuesday.
The BJP created history by registering first ever victory in Rohru, a traditional congress bastion and personal stronghold of Union steel minister, Virbhadra Singh.
The Congress party gave a jolt to BJP in Jwali constituency in Kangra district by wresting it, within less than two years of 2007 assembly elections. BJP candidate, Khushi Ram Balnatah defeated Congress nominee, Manjit Singh Thakur by 8,473 votes.
In Jwali, Congress’ Sujan Singh Pathania won by 5240 from BJP’s Bladev Raj Chaudhary. Balnatah had contested four unsuccessful elections against Virbhadra Singh since 1993.
Virbhadra had vacated this seat in May after election to Loksabha from Mandi. He represented it five times since 1990. Rohru has always gone with Congress in the past, except for 1977, when Janta Party had wrested it.
Pathania had lost to BJP’s Rajan Sushant in 2007 assembly polls. Sushant had won Loksabha poll from Kangra in May and vacated Jwali.
In Rohru, congress infighting, and in Jwali, BJP infighting hung heavy on the prospects of party candidates. The denial of ticket to Virbhadra’s wife, Pratibha Singh in Rohru remained a big factor in congress defeat.
Party sources said the message went across the constituency that Pradesh Congress Committee had tried to corner Virbhadra Singh by ousting Pratibha Singh—which the folks in Rohru did not relish, being emotionally attached to Virbhadra Singh all these years.
``Virbhadra worked for eight days in Rohru personally, despite high command acting against his wishes in Rohru. But how much he could do for a weak candidate, pitted against the strength of ruling party,’’ said a former congress minister, refusing to be quoted.
The local congress leaders in Rohru, who had moved a resolution favoring Pratibha Singh’s ticket, did not work in the field for Manjit in resentment, party insiders said.
State BJP chief, Kaul Singh, however said, ``In Jwali, the congress party worked together. But in Rohru, sympathy for the BJP candidate, misuse of official machinery by BJP and backstabbing by local leaders in Rohru led to congress defeat.’’
``Virbhadra Singh’s initial outburst created some problem. Later, however, he worked for the candidate with sincerity,’’ Thakur said.
He analyzed that the high command had given ticket to Manjit after considering all factors.
In Jwali, Kangra MP, Rajan Sushant went overboard in comments against his own party and BJP government that spoiled things for BJP.
Sushant’s wife, Sudha Sushant was denied ticket.
The party gave ticket to Baldev Raj Chaudhary, who was a candidate of his choice.
But, what annoyed Sushant was the alleged patronage by a former BJP leader to a BJP rebel, Madan Sharma, Sushant’s elder brother. The said former BJP leader is a independent MLA and close to chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal.
``Sushant’s comments against BJP and the government irked chief minister so much so that he went to Jwali only for one day, and concentrated in Rohru assembly segment,’’ BJP insiders said.
In 68 membered HP assembly, the strength of BJP remains 42, congress 23 and independents 3.