Himachal: BJP aims to retain all four LS seats; Congress has twin task

Results in assembly bypolls likely to decide fate of state government

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari with former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and BJP candidate from Mandi constituency Kangana Ranaut during a public meeting in Kullu | PTI Union Minister Nitin Gadkari with former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and BJP candidate from Mandi constituency Kangana Ranaut during a public meeting in Kullu | PTI

Himachal Pradesh is witnessing an unusual heat wave this summers, the climatic and the political. With polling set to take place on June 1, all eyes will not just be on the four Lok Sabha seats, held by the BJP, but the six assembly seats where bypolls are happening after the Congress MLAs rebelled against Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.

Sukhu had won the polls in December 2022 defeating the BJP government in the revolving door polity of the state. Sukhu’s elevation to the chief minister marked a generational change in the state’s politics in the absence of former CM Virbhadra Singh. A year later, he faced rebellion as six MLAs cross voted during the Rajya Sabha elections defeating the party candidate, Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Sukhu government got a breather as six rebels were disqualified. Those six seats will decide the fate of the Congress government.

The stakes are not only running high in the assembly byepolls but even the Lok Sabha elections held simultaneously. In the bipolar contest in the state, the BJP is relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma to continue its winning streak of the last two Lok Sabha polls, where it had won all the four seats. For Congress, its a prestige battle as the party had to suffer embarrassment due to rebellion.  

The seat attracting most attention in the state is Mandi. BJP has fielded bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut from this Lok Sabha seat, which is also her native place.  The outspoken Ranaut is a major draw in this elections. Being a Modi supporter even before she joined politics, Ranaut has a dedicated following across the country.

Making Mandi a high value contest is Vikramaditya Singh, a minister in Sukhu cabinet, but more importantly, son of Virbhadra Singh. His mother, Pratibha Singh, now the state Congress president, had won the polls in Mandi in a byepoll.  Being a Rajput dominated seat, both Ranaut and Singh are  vying for that pie. Mandi is prestige battle on many counts: Ranaut’s first electoral entry; Virbhadra Singh’s family’s influence, and the first polls on Sukhu’s watch.

Other high-stakes battle is in Hamirpur, a seat held by the BJP since 1998 and currently represented by Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur. Thakur’s father, Prem Kumar Dhumal, a former chief minister, represented the seat before him. Congress has fielded former MLA Satpal Singh Raizada against Thakur who appears to be in comfortable position.

Congress has fielded former union minister Anand Sharma from Kangra, a seat held by the BJP for the last three terms. BJP has fielded Rajeev Bhadarwaj, who is contesting polls for the first time.

From Shimla reserved seat, which has been held by the BJP since 2009, the party has repeated its sitting MP Suresh Kashyap, while the Congress has fielded MLA Vinod Sultanpuri.

The BJP aims to win all the four seats to retain its hold over the state. The Congress has a twin task—to improve its national tally from the state, and even save its state government. Himachal is one of the three states where the grand old party is in power. 

While the state will take the political contest in its stride, the changes at the climactic level are more permanent and may need a focused attention from the governments in power. 

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp