Even as murmurs for leadership change in Himachal Pradesh have now died down after the change of Chief Ministers in BJP ruled states, the bypolls to the Mandi Lok Sabha will certainly prove a litmus test for CM Jai Ram Thakur ahead of 2022 assembly polls.
The stakes are for ruling BJP as Mandi district is the home turf of Thakur and in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Ramswaroop Sharma had won by record margin of over 4 lakh votes.
The Mandi Lok Sabha seat which is one of the biggest parliamentary constituencies in the country in terms of geographical area, will pose a major challenge to the ruling BJP if the Congress fields former MP Pratibha Singh, the wife of six-time CM Virbhadra Singh.
Though Singh had previously lost to BJP’s Ramswaroop Sharma in 2014 Lok Sabha elections but this time around, the sympathy factor after Virbhadra Singh’s death in August this year, may work in Congress’ favour.
In addition, the 2019 elections turned in favour of BJP owing to ‘Modi wave’ in Himachal Pradesh which might not be the case this time around and CM Jai Ram Thakur might have to bank on his pro-poor image.
Another factor that may go in favour of Pratibha Singh is that the seat is traditionally held by Congress party with Virbhadra Singh winning the seat while Pratibha had the seat twice in 2004 and 2013.
But what can work in favour for Jai Ram Thakur, who is presently in his home district Mandi to garner support, is the infighting between Congress party leaders.
This becomes more evident from the fact that as state Congress chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore announced Pratibha Singh as party candidate from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat during a public meeting in Kullu, Ashray Sharma, the grandson of former Union minister Sukh Ram started opposing the decision.
He even started public meetings in the constituency to show his strength to party high command as Sukh Ram wields considerable hold in the constituency, particularly in Mandi district.
Another factor upon which ruling BJP can rely in the parliamentary constituency is sympathy factor after former MP Ramswaroop Sharma’s death and affection of people towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
PM Modi continues to mention his linkages to Himachal Pradesh in his public meetings especially in Mandi district and he often talks about missing ‘Mandyali Dham’ a traditional feast and ‘Sepu Badi’.
The last but not the least factor that seemed to be more in favour of CM Thakur and ruling BJP is the past history that the people of Himachal backed the ruling disposition in bypolls most of the time.
The aspirants for Congress ticket from Mandi Lok Sabha seats are Pratibha Singh, Ashray Sharma while from BJP, the names of HP minister Mahender Singh Thakur, former Brigadier and Kargil war veteran, Khushal Thakur and state BJP spokesperson Ajay Rana were doing rounds.