Jubbal Kotkhai: Turf of two former CMs set for keen triangular contest

Congress’s Rohit Thakur, BJP’s Neelam Saraik and BJP rebel Chetan Bragta, who is fighting as an independent candidate are in a triangular contest in Jubbal Kotkhai
From left to right:Congress’s Rohit Thakur, BJP’s Neelam Saraik and BJP rebel Chetan Bragta, who is fighting as an independent candidate are in a triangular contest in Jubbal Kotkhai. (HT Photo)
From left to right:Congress’s Rohit Thakur, BJP’s Neelam Saraik and BJP rebel Chetan Bragta, who is fighting as an independent candidate are in a triangular contest in Jubbal Kotkhai. (HT Photo)
Updated on Oct 17, 2021 03:34 AM IST
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ByGaurav Bisht, Shimla

The Jubbal-Kotkhai constituency has remained the political battleground of two former chief ministers, Thakur Ram Lal and Virbhadra Singh. In this by-election, the contest is triangular between Congress’s Rohit Thakur, BJP’s Neelam Saraik and BJP rebel Chetan Bragta, who is fighting as an independent candidate. The fourth candidate in the fray is Suman Kadam, an independent, but he has not been able to cut much ice with the voters.

An affluent apple-growing region, the constituency is known for throwing up big surprises in poll results. The segment has been reshaped since it was carved out initially. About a dozen villages of Nawar valley, which used to be part of the Rohru constituency earlier, were clubbed with Jubbal-Kotkhai about a decade back, changing the demography and equations for the political parties.

The constituency had for long been the bastion of former chief minister Thakur Ram Lal. He first won it in 1967 as an independent by defeating then Jansangh’s Balanand Chauhan. Thakur later joined the Congress and continued his winning streak in 72, 77 and 82 till the time he was appointed governor of Andhra Pradesh. Thakur, a close confidant of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had to step down as chief minister after his son’s name figured in the mass tree-felling scam. Virbhadra Singh, who was then the industries minister for state in the Union government, was Indira’s pick for the chief ministership in 1985. Virbhadra chose to contest his by-election from Jubbal-Kotkhai and won.

Thakur Ram Lal returned to the state after a major controversy in Andhra Pradesh after N Bhaskrao was appointed chief minister when Telegu Desam stalwart NT Rama Rao was away to the United States for surgery. Thakur returned but couldn’t go along well with Virbhadra. He contested the next elections as a Janata Dal nominee against sitting chief minister Virbhadra and won. Thakur won three more elections and remained a member of the Vidhan Sabha till his death in 2003.

Thakur’s grandson Rohit Thakur has won two elections. In 2017, he lost to Narinder Bragta of the BJP by a narrow margin of 1,060 votes.

Narinder Bragta’s untimely death in June 2021 necessitated the by-election. His son Chetan is harping mainly on his father’s legacy — his contribution as the horticulture minister for the apple-growing region, mainly introduction of anti-hail guns.

Chetan, who till recently was touring the constituency with BJP ministers, is now out of the saffron fold. He has been allotted ‘apple’ as the election symbol. “Na hum Congress waley, na hum BJP waley, hum sab seb waley” is the motto of his supporters, mostly BJP workers, during campaigning. “I will live up to the dreams and vision of my father for the constituency,” says Chetan.

As an MLA and chief parliamentary secretary, Rohit largely contributed towards strengthening the road network in the constituency. He has the strong Congress vote bank and his personal rapport going in his favour. Rohit is repeatedly attacking the BJP government over the poor roads in the area. “The Theog-Hatkoti road, which is the lifeline of the apple belt, is still incomplete. The BJP made mere announcements and did nothing on the ground,” says Thakur.

BJP candidate Neelam Saraik, the three-time Zila Parishad member, is facing a tough situation in her very first big election, especially in the wake of resignations by party office-bearers of the entire block in favour of Chetan. Neelam is counting on her grassroots electoral experience to set the tide in her favour. There are more than 36,000 women voters in the constituency and she is the lone woman candidate.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021