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Thursday, December 09, 2021

Mandi Bypoll on October 30: For voters, Cong price rise big issue, BJP banks on PM: ‘he will tame it’

The seat fell vacant after BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma allegedly committed suicide in his official residence in New Delhi on March 17. The parliamentary seat will go to polls along with the three assembly seats of Fatehpur, Arki and Jubbal-Kotkhai. The counting will be held on November 2.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Mandi |
Updated: October 27, 2021 7:54:41 am
BJP’s Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retd) campaigning in Mandi. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal)

Making a bouquet at his shop in Sundernagar, florist Kesar Singh laments how his business has taken a hit due to rising fuel prices. The ever increasing fuel prices, he says, has shot up transportation cost of a parcel of flowers he orders from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh from Rs 700 to Rs 1,100.

As one travels across the parts of the Mandi inflation is the buzz word. From skyrocketing fuel rates to astronomical rise in prices of kitchen essentials such as refined oil and pulses, to that of building construction material and gas cylinders, discussions and debates on inflation can be heard in every street and area as electors prepare to vote for bypoll to the Mandi Lok Sabha seat on October 30.

The seat fell vacant after BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma allegedly committed suicide in his official residence in New Delhi on March 17. The parliamentary seat will go to polls along with the three assembly seats of Fatehpur, Arki and Jubbal-Kotkhai. The counting will be held on November 2.

The bypoll has turned into a battle of prestige for the ruling BJP, which has fielded Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retd), and the opposition Congress, which has nominated Pratibha Singh, a two time-MP and the wife of six-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

It is for the first time that any member of Virbhadra Singh’s family is contesting an election after his demise. Singh died of post-Covid complications on July 8.

Congress’s Pratibha Singh campaign in Mandi.
(Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal)

While Pratibha has been invoking the “legacy” of her late husband, Brigadier Thakur, a first timer in the electoral ring, has promised to work “as honestly” even as his party harps on his past as hero of Kargil war.

Brigadier Thakur is apparently seized of how inflation issue is playing out in the bypolls. He blames the the pandemic and the resources spent by the government in its fight against Covid for the inflation. Addressing a ‘jan sabha’ in Kufri village Monday evening, he tells villagers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the problem of mehngai (inflation) also. He hails PM for the massive vaccination drive and makes a point that the pandemic had caused inflation at global level. “If Prime Minister Narendra Modi can take you out from Covid pandemic, he will take people out of inflation also,” says Thakur. He also underlines that Congress “has no other issue than raking up inflation”.

While, the issue of inflation remains a hot potato, a government employee residing in Sundernagar, wishing not to be named says that the Mandi bypoll “is for keeping the honour of [Chief Minister] Jai Ram Thakur intact” by making the BJP nominee win.

Jai Ram Thakur represents Seraj Assembly constituency in Mandi as legislator. But, a shop owner nearby laughs it out. “It could be other way round also. People may vote to ensure that honour of CM is not kept intact,” he says, adding that while businesses had taken a hit due to rise in transportation cost, “common man cannot even stand at a grocery shop due to increased prices of various commodities”.

Vidya Devi, who runs an eatery-cum-general store in Bijni village on Mandi-Pathankot road, also minces no words as she rues the increase in gas cylinder prices making people contemplate on “using chullahs for cooking”.

Majority of those rsising the issue of inflation say it is “unprecedented” and blame the BJP-led governments at Centre and the State.

However, Subedar M Chand (retd), who has just attended the Kufri “jan sabha” of Brigadier Thakur, says inflation was there earlier also and in higher degree as well. “When I was posted in Uri, in around 2006, we bought tomatoes which used to cost Rs 260 a kg,” says Chand, who retired in 2016.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Thakur tells people that PM, CM and local MLA (from Drang) were from the BJP and if they also elect the MP of same party, it will be a good thing and their issues would be easily addressed.

In Patlikuhal on Kullu-Manali highway, Pratibha Singh lashes out at the BJP, blaming its governments at Centre and state on various issues, including the inflation. She urges electors to vote for her so that she could take up the issues with the PM who had “closed his eyes and ears” to the problems being faced by the people.

She credits her husband for the overall development of the state during his long political career and believes that the voters will keep that in mind when they go out to exercise their franchise on October 30.

Mandi bypoll results will play an important role in setting the political discourse of the hill state and impact both CM Thakur and the family of Virbhadra Singh. A win will reinforce Jai Ram Thakur’s influence within the BJP while a loss, in his home district, will give his detractors a handle to push for a change of guard ahead the Assembly elections due next year.

For Pratibha Singh, a victory will ensure keeping her family’s clout intact while a loss will mean that she and her son, Shimla rural MLA Vikramaditya Singh, return to the drawing boards to rework their strategy to maintain their significance in the state politics.

Apart from Brigadier Thakur and Pratibha Singh, others in the fray include Rashtriya Lokniti Party’s Ambika Shyam, Himachal Jankranti Party’s Munshi Ram Thakur and independents Anil Kumar and Subhash Mohan Snehi.

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