Bharatiya Janata Party made history in Himachal Pradesh by winning the by-elections to Rohroo (Shimla) assembly constituency for the first time since elections were held in independent India. It also marks a decisive inroad of the BJP into the so far considered the invincible citadel of the Congress. Notably Rohroo had been the pocket borough of 5-time chief minister and present Union Steel Minister Shri Virbhadra Singh who had been winning this seat with comfortable margins since 1990. While it is another feather in the cap of Chief Minister Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal, it is a great setback to Shri Virbhadra Singh’s fiefdom and the Congress.
But the great mirth was marred by BJP candidate’s defeat in Jawali (Kangra) constituency vacated by Shri Rajan Sushant on his election to Lok Sabha from Kangra seat.
The results do not make any impact on the two party’s strength in assembly as one win has been offset by the loss in the other.
The two by-elections marked many similarities.
Both the seats had fallen vacant because of the election of the sitting MLAs as MPs in May 2009-Shri Rajan Sushant (BJP) and Shri Virbhadra Singh (Congress). Both wanted their wives to be given nomination from the seats vacated by them. Both the Congress and the BJP refused their requests and instead nominated somewhat little known party workers – Shri Baldev Raj (BJP) from Jawali and Shri Manjit Thakur (Congress) from Rohroo. Congress retained its old candidate Shri Sujan Singh Pathania in Jawali and BJP Shri Khushi Ram Balnatah in Rohroo. Both won their respective seats. This seat had been alternating between the Congress and the BJP. Shri Pathania had won four times in 1977, 1990, 1993 and 2003. Shri Balnatah had been fighting against Shri Virbhadra Singh since 1993 and losing all the time although he increased his votes and vote percentage each time. In Jawali Congress wrested the seat from BJP and in Rohroo BJP snatched it from Congress.
More creditable and respectable was the margin with which BJP won in Rohroo. In December 2007 Shri Virbhadra Singh had registered a victory by a margin of 14,137 votes. BJP turned the tables this time by winning it by 8,473 votes, implying a gain of popular mandate by BJP of 22,610 over Congress in just 22 months. Shri Virbhadra Singh personally campaigned for over a week. Since becoming a Union Minister he had been too frequently visiting the constituency and showering favours.
For BJP Chief Minister Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal had taken full command of the campaigning. He was assisted by BJP organisation and sitting MP Shri Virendra Kashyap and State President Shri Khimi Ram, many MLAs and ministers. This victory marks the spreading of BJP wings in areas otherwise barred for it. After winning Jubbal-Kotkhai seat for the first time in 2007, BJP is now evenly placed with Congress in Shimla district with 3 BJP MLAs and one associate member.
“This is victory of the policies of BJP and its government”, said Prof. Dhumal. “People (in Rohroo) were fed up with false promises of Virbhadra Singh”, he said.
State BJP leadership has claimed this victory as the reiteration of approval and support for the programmes and policies of the Dhumal government.
BJP victory has put a question mark on the clout of Shri Virbhadra Singh in the area and will make him further vulnerable. His detractors, including Union Commerce Minister Shri Anand Sharma, are likely to further weaken his position both in the State and the Centre.
BJP was as much a divided house in Jawali as was it united in Rohroo. Both the BJP national Vice-President and former Chief Minister Shri Shanta Kumar and Shri Sushant had campaigned extensively for BJP.