SHIMLA: In a major embarrassment for the state ruling BJP, the Congress on Tuesday won the Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll along with all three Assembly constituencies -- Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal-Kotkhai -- in bypolls.
Congress candidate Pratibha Singh won the Mandi seat, a prestige for Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur as it falls in his home district, by defeating BJP's greenhorn Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retired), a decorated officer who played a crucial role in the 1999 Kargil war, by a slender margin of 8,766 votes.
The Congress candidates won Arki, Jubbal-Kotkhai and Fatehpur Assembly segments with comfortable margins.
Congress veteran and six-time Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh's legacy was put to test against BJP's Chief Minister Thakur's credibility during the parliamentary bypoll of Mandi, one of country's toughest and sprawling constituencies.
Pratibha Singh, now a third-time MP from Mandi, is the wife of the late Virbhadra Singh.
The seat fell vacant with the death of two-time BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma, who defeated Congress candidate Ashray Sharma, the grandson of former Telecommunications Minister Sukh Ram in his electoral debut, with a margin of 3.98 lakh votes in 2019.
Eyeing sympathy votes, Pratibha Singh, who was banking largely on her first-time legislator son Vikramaditya Singh for campaigning, sought votes on development carried out by her husband during his three stints as an MP from Mandi and six terms as the Chief Minister.
Pratibha Singh, who lost the Mandi seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, missed no opportunity to remind the electorates that the victory in Mandi by-election "will be a tribute to him (Virbhadra Singh)".
Her husband, Virbhadra Singh, who devoted over 50 years for the common people despite being born in royalty, had travelled across the state, both as an MP and the Chief Minister.
The veteran leader passed away on July 8 in Shimla at the age of 87, leaving behind a rich political legacy.
Her husband was elected from Mandi in 1971, 1980 and 2009. However, Virbhadra Singh lost the Mandi seat in 1977. At the time of his death, he was representing the Arki Assembly seat.
The Mandi constituency, which includes Kullu, Mandi and some areas of Chamba and Shimla districts, besides the tribal-dominated Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti, is one of the biggest in the country.
In the assembly seats, the key contest was between Congress candidate Rohit Thakur and BJP rebel and Independent Chetan Bragta on the Jubbal-Kotkhai seat.
Bragta is the son of former horticulture minister Narendra Bragta, who passed away in June because of post-COVID complications. Thakur won the seat by a margin of nearly 6,000 votes.
Congress candidate Sanjay Awasthy won the Arki assembly seat by 3,277 votes, while in Fatehpur Congress candidate Bhawani Singh Pathania defeated his nearest rival Baldev Thakur of the BJP by 5,652 votes.
Elated over party's victory, Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri said this poll was the semifinal ahead of the 2022 Assembly poll.
"The BJP has lost faith in the state owing to anti-people policies. It is a vote for change. We are going to make a comeback in the state in the next Assembly elections," he said.