Himachal Pradesh is all set to go to the polls Saturday amid tight security.
Campaigning ended Friday evening for the by-elections from two assembly constituencies.
A total of 143,483 voters are expected to decide the fate of eight candidates, including four independents, for the by-polls at Rohru in Shimla district and Jawali in Kangra district.
While the Rohru seat fell vacant after five-time former chief minister Virbhadra Singh of the Congress was elected to the Lok Sabha, the by-poll in Jawali has been necessitated by Rajan Sushant of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who also won election to parliament.
In the initial days, campaigning was low key but it gained momentum as the last day drew closer.
The main contest is between the opposition Congress and the ruling BJP.
The spotlight of the by-elections is on Rohru, which has been a Virbhadra Singh stronghold for the past two decades. But the BJP is making all-out efforts to win the Rohru seat. This constituency has witnessed aggressive campaigning.
While Khushi Ram Balnatah, who lost the Rohru election four times in succession from Virbhadra Singh, is re-contesting as the BJP candidate, the Congress has fielded greenhorn Manjit Singh.
After initial days of bickering among senior state Congress leaders over the allotment of tickets, the party has finally managed to send a signal of unity to the voters before the campaigning ended.
Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh, who was initially upset over the denial of the Rohru ticket to his wife Pratibha Singh, later campaigned intensively for the party.
On Friday, even Pratibha Singh campaigned along with Virbhadra Singh.
She tried to strike an emotional chord with the voters by saying that though she may not have got the ticket, Virbhadra Singh and she would always have an emotional attachment to the people of Rohru.
“I appeal to the people to vote for Congress, this would strengthen Virbhadra Singh,” she said.
Political observers believe that the outcome at Rohru will have implications for Virbhadra Singh as he is under pressure from the party’s high command to ensure victory.
“Virbhadra Singh is fighting a battle on two fronts. One, he is trying to ensure the victory of the party. Second, he is trying to re-establish his credentials as a charismatic leader. The party’s victory will not only help him survive in politics but also signal the resurgence of the Congress in the state,” they said.
The BJP has also made all-out efforts to woo voters in Rohru.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal spent most of his time in Rohru along with his six ministers.
The BJP too has played an emotional card while trying to garner votes.
“Give one last chance to Balnatah as from the next assembly elections this constituency would be reserved for the Scheduled Castes (as per delimitation exercise). He may have lost all four elections, but he never lost the zeal to work for development in Rohru. If you elect him, he would be the chief minister of Rohru,” Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said at an election rally.
The BJP started its campaign much ahead of the Congress. Balnatah, whose candidature was cleared by the party almost two months ago, campaigned from village to village with an emotional appeal seeking “first and the last chance” to become the legislator.
In Jawali, however, the infighting within the BJP is likely to cost it dear in the by—election.
While the BJP has fielded greenhorn Baldev Raj Chaudhary from here, rebel Madan Sharma, who was denied the party ticket, is contesting as an independent. Sharma is the elder brother of BJP MP Rajan Sushant.
Sushant, who was trying to get the BJP ticket for his wife Sudha Sushant, later backed the candidature of Chaudhary.
Sharma is openly accusing his younger brother of promoting dynastic politics and dividing the party by favouring “weak candidate” Chaudhary after the party refused to give a ticket to his wife.
The Congress has fielded former minister Sujan Singh Pathania.
The BJP fared well in the May general elections, winning three out of the four parliamentary seats in the state.