Fate of 62 poll candidates in Himachal Pradesh to be sealed on Saturday

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Shimla: After a two-month-long campaign, the fate of 37 candidates for four Lok Sabha seats and 25 nominees in six Assembly bypolls in Himachal Pradesh would be sealed in voting machines on June 1.

The high-pitched campaign in the hill state, filled with rancour and insinuations, ended with two rallies of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at Badsar and Mandi and a roadshow of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at Solan on Thursday. Leaders and workers of political parties swarmed across the state for door-to-door canvassing in a last-ditch attempt to woo the voters.

Besides the elections to the four Lok Sabha seats of Hamirpur, Mandi, Kangra and Shimla, bypolls are being held in six Assembly segments — Sujanpur, Dharamshala, Lahaul and Spiti, Barsar, Gagret and Kutlehar.

The six Assembly seats fell vacant following the disqualification of Congress rebels for defying a party whip to vote in favour of the government during the budget. These legislators voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Rajya Sabha polls on February 29, later joined the saffron party and are contesting the bypolls on BJP tickets from their respective Assembly segments.

Targeting the rebels, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu dubbed them as “bikau” (sold out) and “kale naag” (snakes) and called upon the voters to punish them.

Besides holding big rallies, leaders of political parties also held “nukkar” (corner) meetings, especially in the constituencies where Assembly bypolls are being held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election.

Due to the Assembly bypolls, local issues dominated the campaigning.

BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Mandi and Bollywood actor Kangna Ranaut and Congress candidate and state Public Works Minister Vikramaditya Singh hogged the limelight due to controversial and pungent remarks made against each other.

Sukhu attacked the BJP throughout the campaign for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to topple the democratically-elected government in Himachal Pradesh through money power and asserted that the Congress will defeat the saffron party with the power of people.

The BJP made the yet-to-be implemented promises of the Congress government in the state, “Modi teesri bar” (Narendra Modi as the prime minister for a third time) and the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya its poll planks. It also dubbed the Congress as “anti-Ram” for refusing the invitation for the consecration ceremony of the temple.

The Congress hit out at the Agniveer scheme for short-term military recruitment, alleged a threat to democracy and horse-trading by the BJP during its campaign. It also talked about unemployment and inflation in the country.

Apple was another issue that was raised from different perspectives by both the Congress and the BJP.

The prestige of Ranaut and Singh, the heir of the erstwhile Rampur royal family and son of six-time former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, is at stake in Mandi.

Stakes are also high for Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, who is seeking a fifth term as a member of Parliament from Hamirpur, and former Union minister Anand Sharma, who is the Congress candidate from the Kangra Lok Sabha constituency, while for Sukhu, the six Assembly bypolls are for survival and stability of his 17-month-old government.

Congress leaders also slammed the ruling BJP at the Centre for not announcing a financial package for relief and rehabilitation during the worst-ever monsoon calamity in the state last year.

The campaign witnessed new lows in “devbhoomi” Himachal Pradesh as political leaders used indecent language, hit their opponents below the belt and did not shy away from personal attacks.

The entry of BJP rebels Ram Lal Markanda and Rakesh Chowdhary has made the contest triangular in the Lahaul and Spiti and Dharamshala Assembly bypolls respectively, while Rajinder Rana, who defeated Ranjeet Singh Rana of the BJP by 399 votes in the 2022 Assembly election, is contesting the bypoll from Sujanpur on a BJP ticket this time and facing his old rival, Ranjeet Singh Rana, who has since switched to the Congress.

In the Gagret Assembly bypoll, Congress rebel Chetanya Sharma is contesting as the BJP candidate against Rakesh Kalia, who had joined the BJP after he was denied a ticket by the Congress in 2022 and rejoined the Congress subsequently.

A total of 57,11,969 voters — 29,13,075 men, 27,98,859 women and 35 third-gender persons — would decide the fate of the 62 candidates.

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