Bypolls get interesting on Himachal’s Pachhad and Dharamshala seats

Dyal Pyari is leading from the front as BJP rebels give tough time to the state’s BJP government in the two constituencies, writes Rakesh Rocky

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Despite having its own government in both the Center and the state and winning all four Lok Sabha seats by a huge margin just four-and-a-half months ago, the bypoll on October 21 has become a sore throat for Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur. The most troublesome constituency for him is Pachhad where the BJP rebel Dyal Pyari has jumped in the fray. The Dharamshala seat in Kangra has also become a big challenge for the ruling BJP where party rebel has become headache for the official candidate of the party.

After winning 44 seats in the Assembly elections in 2017, the BJP government’s performance so far has been mixed. People have their own opinion about performance of the government. The Opposition Congress has been attacking the government anyway. However, BJP leaders are assuming that the party candidates will sail through easily on October 21 when people will vote.

The public was openly with PM Narendra Modi in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The reason was successfully redeeming “Pulwama and Balakot” for politics. Slogan of “Hindutva and hardline nationalism” also played big role in the elections. Although the BJP wants to encash the abolition of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, but local issues will play a bigger role in these bypolls.

The omen of the by-election was not good for the BJP. As soon as BJP fielded Reena Kashyap in Pachad (reserved) seat in Solan district, the party leader Dayal Pyari and Ashish Sikta were angered. Both of them filed nomination as rebels. Sikta, however withdrew, Dayal Pyari continues to be in the fray.

Dayal Pyari has the capacity to troube the BJP because she has won the Zilla Parishad election three times from Pachhad. She was once the chairperson of the Zilla Parishad. Even more interesting is that she emerged victorious from different wards each time, which shows her popularity in the area.

She had won the election from Bagh-Pashoga for the first time and the second time from Narag. Presently, she is Zilla Parishad member from Bagh-Pashog. The hold in her area can also be gauged from the fact that even when there was a Congress government in the state, she was elected the President of the Zilla Parishad on a BJP ticket. Visiting the area shows that she has good influence in about 30 panchayats and the sympathy of the people also seems to be associated with her.

On the day of nomination, a video clip of her also became viral, in which some people are allegedly forcing Dayal Pyari into a jeep. Dayal Pyari supporters alleged that there was a conspiracy to prevent her from filing the nomination papers. Obviously this charge is on the BJP, although the BJP says that the party people have no role in it.

Overall, five candidates are in the fray in this constituency which falls in Sirmaur district. Apart from Dayal Pyari (Azad) and Reena Kahsai (BJP), the third prominent candidate is senior Congress leader Gangu Ram Musafir. Musafir, who had lost two previous elections, had won seven consecutive elections before that. He has not only been a minister in Congress governments, but has also been the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Others include independent Surendra Kumar Chhinda and Pawan Kumar.

Ashish Sikta and Dayal Pyari were in the race for tickets from BJP. Their names were included in the panel sent to the party highcommand. But party gave the ticket to Reena Kashyap. This led Sikta and Dayal becoming rebels and Dayal Payari is still in the fray. The truth is that she has made contest triangular.

While talking to Tehelka correspondent Dayal Pyari said, “The party has behaved in a dictatorship manner. Some leaders were conspiring to get me out of the BJP. I was constantly pressurised to withdraw the ticket, but my supporters and the people of the area want me in the fray. The public is with me and the BJP candidates is going to lose in this election.’’

Suresh Kashyap of BJP won this seat for the last two consecutive elections. Seeing the hold of BJP’s Suresh Kashyap, the BJP fielded him in the Lok Sabha elections in May and he won by a huge margin. BJP is now stuck in a thrilling contest on the seat he vacated after winning the Lok Sabha election.

Remember, in the 2012 assembly elections, Suresh Kashyap and Musafir had a stiff fight, in which Suresh won by a relatively narrow margin — 2805 votes. In 2017 assembly elections Suresh Kashyap secured 30243 votes, while Gangu Ram Musafir got 23818 votes. Suresh’s difference increased to 6427. However, it also cannot be called a huge difference.

If Dayal Pyari succeeds in dividing BJP votes, it may get problematic for the BJP. Many feel that Dyal Pyari has the capacity to beat the saffron party’s candidate. The Congress hopes that in this situation its candidate will win by-election.

Musafir held this seat seven times in a row from 1972 to 2007. He joined Congress after winning the first election as an independent candidate in 1972. It will be interesting to see what the old thrust of Musafir is able to show again.

The defeat could put a full stop on Musafir’s political career. Even though he is a strong Congress leader in the area, after the third consecutive defeat, the new people of the Congress will stake claim in the area. If won, he will not face any challenge in the party even in the next election. Hence his reputation is at stake in this by-election.

BJP candidate Reena Kashyap has nothing to lose. Whatever may happen to her will become a situation of shame for the government. Reena has also been a member of Zilla Parishad once. To ensure her victory the entire government and organisation are throwing their fullest strength behind her. CM Jairam Thakur himself is campaigning in the field. For the first time after becoming the chief minister Jai Ram is feeling challenge in any election.

The by-election is also important for Independent Dayal Pyari. So far, she is on a high graph of politics. If she won, she will become very strong. If defeated, she will stand in the same queue where the other rebels of the BJP are standing. There are speculatiosn even at this moment that if she wins, she will go with BJP again. By the way, the possibility of her going with the Congress cannot be ruled out. In such a situation, she will be a strong contender for the Congress ticket in the next assembly elections.

Dharamshala Seat

It is very interesting that not only the BJP and Congress, but also the independent candidates in Dharamshala are urging the public to vote, as much as they are trying to make an organisation Navjivan Foundation (Rubru) in their favor. But even more interesting is that the man behind this organisation is non else but former Congress MLA and former minister Sudhir Sharma, who is considered to be a close associate of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.

Eight candidates are in the fray for this seat. There was a possibility that the Congress would give ticket to Sudhir Sharma or someone close to him. But this did not happen. Now Sudhir is sitting in a kind of ‘’Kopbhavan’’. The Congress has fielded the young Vijayendra Karna, who is nephew of former Congress minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri.

BJP has given ticket to Vishal Naihari. The seat fell vacant after the resignation of BJP’s Kishan Kapoor, who was elected to the Lok Sabha in the May elections. Kapoor was a minister in the Jairam government at that time. However, Kishan Kapoor has been dominating this seat for three decades. He has won five assembly elections from here. However, in 2012, he lost to Sudhir Sharma, whose late father Sant Ram had been the president of the Pradesh Congress and a minister in various Congress governments.

The Chokas Bhardwaj, who is associated with the film industry, has also landed as an independent candidate. Punish Padha, son of late Congress legislator Mulraj Padha, Manohar Lal Dhiman, Rakesh Kumar Chowdhary of Swabhiman Party are also in the fray as independent candidates.

There is a lot discussion in the constituency about the possible role of Navajivan Foundation “Rubru’’, a non political organisation in this by-election. Talking about Rubaru, three years ago, former Congress MLA Sudhir Sharma raised this NGO to deal with his opponents within the party. Through this organisation, Sudhir actually cleverly gathered the women’s vote bank in his favor.

The purpose of making the rubru was to create a women’s vote bank Sudhir is the chairman of this institution while Shakun Mankotia is Managing Director (MD). Rubru runs about 115 sewing centers in Dharamshala contituency. In addition to conducting religious tours, Rubru opens bank account by contributing 1000 on the birth of every girl child in the constituency. The name of this program has been named “Aahan di Munni” (Our daughter). It has great popularity in the area.

It is believed that close to eight thousand women are associated with Rubru. Now right from congress to BJP and independents are eyeing its support base among the women in the area. The screw is that Sudhir Sharma has not openly campaigned for the Congress candidate yet. It is considered that he is not happy the way Congress alotted the ticket.

The importance of the organisation is proved by this that state congress president Kuldeep Rathod personally met Rubru’s MD Shakun Mankotia. Shakun is also the vice president of the state Mahila Congress. It is believed that Mahila Congress President Zainab Chandel lobbied for this meeting. BJP rebel and independent candidate Rakesh Chaudhary also met Shakun. Talking to the Tehelka Rubru MD Shakun Mankotia said that she is a dedicated Congress worker. “I was called by the state president Kuldeep Rathore and I have had discussion on all issues.’’ Shakun says that she is working wholeheartedly as a true soldier of the Congress for the party’s candidate. Then she adds — “I would still like to clarify that our organization is non-political.”

The challenge of rebels in Dharamshala is beeing faced by both BJP and the Congress. Punish Padha is congress while Rakesh Chaudhary is BJP rebel. Another senior BJP leader Rajiv Bhardwaj had also tried hard for the ticket in the BJP but he did not get success. Bhardwaj is considered close to former CM Shanta Kumar. He is currently the chairman of Kangra Central Cooperative Bank.

Bhardwaj, however, said that from the Sangh (RSS), he has only learned him a sense of service and sacrifice. “I have never been behind posts.” He is sure that the BJP will win by a huge margin, not only in Dharamshala, but also in Pachhad. “Our fight is not only to win but to make a margin huge.” BJP candidate Naiharia is in the fray with the slogan “Ab ki baar, bees hazar par” (this time we will cross 20,000 margin). The one whose rebellion took more votes will pose a threat. This is the reason that both the parties are willingly telling the people that voting the rebel would be like a waste.

People in both constituencies are still unclear but they are open in admitting that they will vote on local issues. Sarju Devi, a woman in Balmu Kheri village of Pachhad said, “Our problems are about roads, drinking water and all. These are the issues for us.”

In Khaniyaara, Dharamshala, Sunil Kapoor said, “Both candidates are from our community (Gaddi).” We feel that this will divide community votes. One who will get more votes from other communities will be benefited.” BJP MP Kishan Kapoor, is also from the Gaddi community.

There is a clear triangular fight in Pachhad, which can turn the result on either side. The BJP is confident of its victory as there is party government in the state. Himachal BJP president Satpal Satti said, “There is no such thing like rebelian in both the constituencies.” If any such complaint comes from the local units, strict action will be taken against those who do so.’’ The party enjoys great support of the people in both the constituencies and party is going to win in both, addded Satti.

However, leader of opposition Mukesh Agnihotri said,’’ The BJP is going to loose badly. People are not happy and there is huge anger among them. Congress will win by big margin.’’