The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday made a surprising dent in the Congress citadel of Rohru, an Assembly constituency in anterior Shimla district represented continuously for five times by senior Congress leader and Union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh.

Khushi Ram Balnatha of the BJP defeated Manjeet Thakur of the Congress by a huge margin of 8,473 votes. Of the 48,690 votes polled, Mr. Balnatha got 27,705 votes, while Mr. Thakur got 19,232 votes. Independent candidate Kewal Ram Negi got 808 votes, while another Independent Bihari Lal Chauhan, who was supported by the Left, got 946 votes.

On the other hand, BJP candidate Baldev Raj lost the Jawali seat by 5,249 votes to Congress warhorse Sujan Singh Pathania. This seat was vacated by the BJP candidate Rajan Sushant after his victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

Party insiders have attributed the defeat to massive infighting over the presence of party rebel Madan Sharma. BJP vice-president Shanta Kumar and Mr. Sushant, Kangra-Jawali MP, conveyed their displeasure over the half-hearted support by the Dhumal faction to the official party nominee here.

Mr. Sushant had even named MLA Rakesh Pathania, a close confidant of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, for working against the official candidate from Jawali. But Mr. Dhumal preferred to concentrate on Rohru seat and had only deployed his trusted Ministers in Jawali.

Mr. Dhumal, who left for Rohru after the declaration of results, said the victory there was the result of positive and progressive policies of the State government.

He said the victory margin in Rohru showed an approval of the policies and programmes of the government.

The Congress insiders have blamed the leadership for creating confusion among the voters and its initial reluctance to campaign wholeheartedly for the new candidate Manjeet Thakur.