Congress loses stronghold in Himachal to BJP

via IANS published on November 10, 2009

Shimla: The Congress bagged one of the two Himachal Pradesh assembly by-election seats Tuesday but that seemed scant compensation for its humiliating defeat in Rohru, always considered a stronghold of former chief minister and union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh.

BJP’s Khushi Ram Balnatah, who had lost the elections four times against Virbhadra Singh, won the seat from Congress’ Manjit Singh by a margin of 8,473 votes. This was a maiden victory for both Balnatah and the BJP in Rohru.

The constituency had for long voted on predictable lines, electing Virbhadra Singh five times in a row from 1990 onwards.

Before that, the seat was represented by independents, the Congress and by the Janata Party (in 1977).

“The people voted for me as I was in constant touch with them all these years even after facing defeat. It is, of course, a victory of the (ruling) BJP government. People supported the development agenda of the government,” Balnatah told IANS over phone from Rohru.

A bitter Virbhadra Singh, who vacated the seat after being elected to the Lok Sabha from Mandi and has been chief minister five times, said he had tried his best.

“I am extremely hurt by the party’s defeat. I tried my best to ensure victory,” Virbhadra Singh told IANS over phone from New Delhi.

“The ruling government had used the official machinery to woo the voters. The whole state machinery along with the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police was stationed in the constituency during the campaign,” he said.

Added Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal: “This is victory of the (BJP’s) party’s policies. People (in Rohru) were fed up with false promises of Virbhadra Singh.”

The Jawali assembly seat went to the Congress with analysts saying that the infighting in the BJP had taken its toll.

Congress candidate Sujan Singh Pathania won the seat by 5,249 votes, defeating his nearest rival Baldev Raj Chaudhary (BJP), who polled 19,919 votes.

BJP’s rebel Madan Sharma, who was denied the party ticket and contested the elections as an independent, succeeded in denting the BJP’s vote bank. He polled 3,580 votes.

Sharma is the elder brother of BJP’s Kangra MP Rajan Sushant, who vacated this seat after he won the Lok Sabha election in May. He was keen on getting a ticket for his wife Sudha Sushant but backed the official BJP candidate Chaudhary when he failed.

Sharma openly accused his younger brother of promoting dynastic politics and dividing the party by favouring “weak candidate” Chaudhary.

After Tuesday’s results, the BJP has 42 seats in the 68-member assembly, the Congress 23 and Independents three.

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