The case of gangrape and murder of 16-year-old girl (Gudia) hangs over the political arena in Himachal Pradesh’s apple belt in Shimla in the run up to the Assembly polls on 9 November.

The alleged rape of the girl from Kotkhai area in July 2017, followed by local protests, custodial death of an accused in police lock-up and arrest of eight cops, including and Inspector General of Police (IGP), the turn of events had disturbed the peace in the hill state over past few months.

The CBI , however, is probing the gangrape and murder case and the custodial death, the crime has become a poll issue, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and CPM raking it up on the streets.

The voters in scattered Jubbal-Kotkhai Assembly segment are silent but express their concern over it. In Theog constituency, people are vocal and accept it as a poll issue.

Jubbal Kotkhai and Theog are presently represented by the Congress party.

Jubbal Kotkhai has been traditionally a Congress bastion, particularly of former chief minister Thakur Ram Lal, who won all the nine elections he fought, and also won once on a Janata Dal ticket against CM Virbhadra Singh in 1990. His grandson, Rohit has held the fort after his death in 2002. He won in 2003 and 2012. Jubbal Kotkhai has gone with the BJP just once in 2007.

Theog too has been Congress seat traditionally, except for four occasions- with Janata Party and then BJP making some inroads.

In Jubbal Kotkhai, Chief Parliamentary Secretary, Rohit this time has locked horns with old rival, former BJP minister, Narendra Bragta in a keen contest.

Both of them are apple growers, Bragta from Kotkhai region and Rohit from Jubbal.

While Bragta, who defeated Rohit in 2007, is banking on anti-incumbency, Rohit relies on development and has put up posters ‘Vikas Ki Jhalak’ across the segment.

“I am hopeful that people would vote for development here. Gudia episode was disturbing. But the effort by some people to politicise the issue have fallen through,” Rohit told The Statesman.

Bragta is known for his pro-active and loud approach on certain issues, including delay in Theog-Hatkoti road in the apple belt and other benefits for apple growers.

In Theog, the electoral equations have changed with the senior Congress minister, Vidya Stokes, 89, not in field, as her nomination was rejected for delayed response.

Deepak Rathore, a novice, who filed papers on Congress ticket is contesting, however.

For the first time, the fight in Theog is visibly between BJP’s Rakesh Verma and CPM’s Rakesh Singha.

Verma has won in Theog thrice earlier, once on BJP ticket and twice independently.

Singha is continuous ‘struggler’ in politics.

He was elected MLA on Shimla Assembly seat in 1993, but was later unseated for conviction in a criminal case.“Yes CPM is in the fight in Theog. Earlier, Congress and BJP used to fight on non-issues. We have brought the real issues of people in poll arena,” Singha said.

His issues revolve around farmers facing eviction in the midst of court orders and government callousness, and ‘women safety’ (with Gudia in backdrop).

CPM workers in Theog carry out a rally for candidate Rakesh Singha.