Having returned to power for the sixth time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is trying to disprove all apprehensions regarding his health and age. In this context the upcoming Mandi byelection has become a fresh test of his popularity graph.
The campaign for the June 23 bypoll has turned bitter with both the Congress and BJP giving a slip to the ground issues. While Virbhadra Singh continues to focus on BJPs corruption and its misrule raking up the land sales charges issue in almost the same tone and tenor used during the recent Assembly elections former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has tried to focus his campaign on corruption and six months of dismal rule under Virbhadra Singh.
If the Assembly polls were a vote on the BJPs five-year governance,why can this Lok Sabha bypoll not be a test of Virbhadra Singhs rule in the six months of the six-time Chief Minister? The government has cheated youngsters in the garb of unemployment allowance; arrears have not been paid to locals supplying milk to MILKFED; MNREGA works have come to a standstill and colleges opened during the BJP regime have been closed, said BJP spokesman Praveen Sharma.
The Congress finds itself on the backfoot and it has fallen on the Industries Minister Mukesh Agnihotri to counter the opposition charge. Expectedly,Agnihotris plea is that five or six months is too little time for any government to clear the mess created by the earlier regime.
The government has not got enough time to really show-case the governance. But,gradually things will improve as Virbhadra Singh himself is a visionary leader with vast experience in governance. There have already been some new initiatives during the past four months, said Agnihotri.
In his campaign,the chief minister has taken pains to convince the voters about this lack of time and promises that his government will create landmarks in the coming months. More importantly he is treating the Mandi bye-election merely an extension of the Assembly elections,which gave the Congress an edge over the BJP.
The BJP is bid is to restrict the battle within nine assembly segments of Mandi district and make it an election of nine v/s eight ( four assembly segments of Kullu and three in tribal belt of Kinnaur,Lahual-Spiti and Bharmour,beside Rampur constituency of Shimla district) as the partys candidate Jairam Thakur hails from Mandi and enjoys wider acceptability.
Pratibha Singh,the Congress candidate is a tourist. She never came back to Mandi after she got elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004. Later,Virbhadra Singh got elected in 2009 but his single point agenda remained the Chief Ministers post. Mandi remained a big loser, alleges Jairam Thakur.
His charges are refuted by Pratibha Singh and other Congress campaigners. This time,Pratibha Singh promises to visit every village after her election. But,her tenure is going to be too short with Lok Sabha elections due next year.