The Congress sprung a surprise victory in Himachal Pradesh today, wresting two BJP seats in the state and one in Karnataka as votes were counted for 29 assembly seats and three Lok Sabha seats. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress retained Fatehpur and Arki and posted a win in Jubbal-Kotkhai — thanks to the infighting and miscalculation by the BJP. It also bagged the Lok Sabha seat of Mandi.
The party hailed it as a straight victory in contests against the BJP. Senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “BJP has lost 2 out of 3 Lok Sabha seats. In Assemblies, BJP has lost at most places in direct contest with INC. HP, Raj., Karnataka & Maharashtra have witnessed it. Modi ji, Shed arrogance! Repeal 3 Black Laws! Stop Petrol-Diesel-Gas Loot! Disdain for people’s pain is harmful”.
“Every victory for the Congress is a victory of our party worker. Keep fighting hate. No fear!” tweeted Congress’s Rahul Gandhi.
While traditionally, the party in power in a state wins the by-polls, the Congress managed to retain Fatehpur and Arki in Himachal Pradesh. Off the record, state leaders attributed it to anti-incumbency, petrol price rise and unemployment.
The party’s big gain was the state’s apple heartland Jubbal-Kotkhai, which was held by the BJP. The seat fell to Congress after the BJP’s last-minute move to withhold ticket from Chetan Singh Bragta, the son of sitting MLA Narinder Singh Bragta whose death made the election necessary. Upset, Chetan Singh Bragta contested as an Independent, dividing the anti-BJP votes and pushing the contest in favour of the Congress. The BJP candidate Neelam Saraik, lost her deposit.
The party also bagged the Mandi Lok Sabha seat, where the BJP had won with four lakh vote margin in 2019. Pratibha Singh, the wife of late Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, beat her BJP rival, Kargil war hero Brigadier Khushal Thakur (Retd.), by over 7,000 votes in what was widely regarded as sympathy vote. Virbhadra Singh – the six-time Chief Minister – had been the party’s towering presence in the state.
It was seen as a black mark for Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, as Mandi was home district where he had been personally involved in the campaign.
As the state Congress chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister after the BJP’s defeat, Mr Thakur alleged that some BJP workers had operated against the party candidates.
“Action will be taken against them,” he said, adding “The party will formulate a strategy to overcome its shortcomings and do everything possible to ensure victory in the 2022 Assembly elections”.
In Karnataka’s Hangal, widely regarded as the backyard of Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai, Congress’ Srinivas Mane won over his BJP rival Shivaraj Sajjanar of BJP by a margin of over 7,000 votes, sending shock waves through the BJP. The Chief Minister had campaigned in the areas for about 10 days, and deputed at least 10 ministers to ensure the party’s victory.
With the defeat being projected as a setback to him, Chief Minister Bommai said, “Elections are won and lost… these by-elections are fought on particular time and issues, and its outcome is not a complete verdict. However, I have taken this election setback very seriously and we will do all the corrections.”
State BJP strongman and former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa came to the rescue of Mr Bommai, saying there is no question of raising doubts on Chief Minister’s leadership as bypolls are contested under collective leadership.
The party, he added, will introspect about the loss in Hangal. “We will rectify the shortcomings if any,” he said.