Even as electioneering drew to close on Friday, byelection to the Mandi parliamentary seat is a high-staked battle for both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With his wife Pratibha Singh in poll fray, chief minister Virbhadra Singh's prestige is more at stake, while for BJP nominee Jai Ram Thakur, it's a battle for future.
Since announcement of bypoll on May 21, the Congress government remained completely focused on the elections in Mandi. Virbhadra Singh rallied the length and breadth of the constituency that comprises 17 assembly segments.
Cabinet ministers, chief parliamentary secretaries and legislators campaigned in various areas to improve poll prospects of Pratibha Singh. Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, along with office-bearers of Pradesh Congress Committee, toured several areas of the constituency. Virbhadra Singh's son Vikramaditya, being groomed for future, too, remained in the fore front of the campaign.
Interestingly, as Virbhadra Singh's birthday coincided with the polling date (June 23), he sought votes for his wife as a birthday gift from people.
The Congress government has put all its might to ensure that Pratibha Singh wins handsomely in the elections, even as the party's central leaders stayed away. Virbhadra Singh has been elected four times to the Lok Sabha from Mandi.
Election to the Mandi seat witnessed a high-decibel campaign. Unlike the assembly polls, the opposition BJP appeared to be united with former chief ministers Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal, who led the campaign.
Attacks and counter-attacks
Developmental works undertaken by the Virbhadra Singh-led state government was one of the key areas where the BJP had tried to nip the Congress. State BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal criticised the Congress government for lack of support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. “Virbhadra Singh is not getting support from the UPA government due to which developmental works in the state, which lacks finances, have been adversely affected,” Satti had said.
The Congress and the BJP had launched rounds of offensive against each other, while real issues got buried. Rather than seeking votes on the basis of development, leaders from both the parties focused on personal attacks.
Virbhadra Singh accused his predecessor Dhumal of snooping on him and other leaders of the Congress during his regime. Functioning of the previous BJP government remained a rallying point for the Congress leaders. Virbhadra is critical of Dhumal regime as he blames it for scams and giving benefits to a few individuals.
Dhumal questioned Virbhadra over burning Shimla gazetteers, which contained family records of his ancestors - rulers of the erstwhile princely state - Rampur Bushahr.
While BJP nominee Jai Ram Thakur questioned Pratibha Singh over MP lad, the latter struck emotional chord with the voters but, none of the leaders talked about the lack of progress and difficulties faced by residents of tribal areas in Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti, both part of the Mandi parliamentary seat.