Dharamshala bypoll: BJP hunts for new face after three decades
With Dharamshala assembly segment in the politically significant Kangra district set for first-ever bypolls in half a century, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds sway in this constituency, will also have a new face in fray after more than 30 years.
It is among the 64 assembly constituencies across the country where by polls will be held on October 21 along with assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra. Pachhad is the other assembly seat in Himachal where by polls will be held.
The byelections were necessitated to Dharamshala and Pachaad as the seats fell vacant after Kishan Kapoor and Suresh Kashyap were elected to the Lok Sabha, respectively.
Kapoor represented Dharamshala for five terms. As per sources, the former minister was keen for the ticket for his son Shashwat Kapoor but the BJP is said to have refused his request, paving the way for a new leader to take over reins.
Belonging to tribal Gaddi community which has a sizable population in Dharamshala, Kapoor unsuccessfully contested his first election from Dharmashala in 1985. He was elected to the state assembly in 1990 amid a pro-BJP wave in the hill state. He was re-elected in 1993 despite the party being routed in the mid-term polls.
People of Dharmashala again reposed faith in him in 1998 and he went on to become the minister in Prem Kumar Dhumal-led government. He lost the 2003 election to Congress’ nominee and scion of Kangra’s Katoch dynasty Chandresh Kumari but staged a comeback in 2007 and again became a minister.
Kapoor was defeated in 2012 assembly polls by Congress’ Sudhir Sharma, who was forced to shift his base to Dharamshala due to delimitation.
In 2017 the party initially replaced Kapoor with former ABVP national general secretary Umesh Dutt but re-nominated him after he raised the banner of revolt, threatening to contest as an independent. He won and went on to become a minister in the Jai Ram Thakur-led government.
He won 2019 Lok Sabha election with a record margin of 4.77 lakh votes, 9th highest in the country. In terms of vote share, he is on the top of the list with 72% votes.
But the BJP now faces a challenge to find a formidable replacement for Kapoor from Dharamshala. Though half a dozen leaders are in the race for ticket, their popularity is yet to be put to test.
Dharamshala has always remained a BJP stronghold since 1977. Out of 10 elections BJP (in 1977 Janata Party) has won seven elections while Congress only three.
Among the front runners is Umesh Dutt, a former general secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of RSS. He has strong links in the RSS and the BJP national leadership. Dutt has been lobbying quietly. BJP had given him a ticket in 2017 assembly polls, but dropped his name after Kishan Kapoor revolted.
Another contender is Sanjay Sharma, a former ABVP activist who is a director in Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association and also spokesperson of the sports body. Sharma is close to BJP working president JP Nadda. Their camaraderie dates back to Sharma’s college days when he was leading Mandal Commission protests in Kangra.
Kangra Cooperative Bank chairman Rajeev Bhardwaj and BJP state media co-incharge Rakesh Sharma are among other prominent faces in the ticket race. Both are close to former chief minister Shanta Kumar and expect the veteran leader to back the candidature of either of them.
2017: BJP’s Kishan Kapoor defeated Congress nominee Sudhir Sharma by over 2,997 votes
2012: Congress’ Sudhir Sharma defeated Kapoor by 5,000 votes
2007: Kapoor won against Congress’ Chandresh Kumari by 7,616 votes
2003: Chandresh Kumari beats Kapoor by 5,118 votes
1998: Kapoor won by 3,365 votes by defeating Congress’ Ramswaroop Sharma.