Nalagarh by-poll to test Congress strength in Himachal

Shimla: Leadership uncertainty prevailing within congress in Himachal, the Nalagarh by-election, where they face a formidable challenge from ruling BJP, will be a test against the odds for the opposition party before the assembly due poll next year.

The seat having fallen vacant with BJP legislator Hari Naryan Saini dying due to illness in June; elections to assembly segment are due to be held before December.

State election commissioner Narinder Chauhan said, “The by-poll in Nalagarh could be held by mid-November. We are in the process of revising the electoral lists.”

Giving Kaul Singh Thakur a second consecutive term as state congress president, the party high command though did repose faith in him for leading the party into election year, but realignment of old guard leaders Vidya Stokes and union minister Virbhadra Singh has taken the sail out of the wings.

Virbhadra Singh, a five time chief minister told reporters in Kullu on Monday, “should the party high command consider me, I would shoulder the responsibility again,.”

With sympathy factor riding high in Nalagarh, where Saini, a week before he died because of cancer, had named his wife Gurnam Kaur as his successor candidate for the seat, congress needs a strong candidate to wrest it from the ruling party.

Political observers hold that with Kaur as a BJP candidate, congress would be on weak ground. “It would be a real test for Kaul Singh’s claim to leadership,” commented one of the observers.

Another remarked, “With there being other aspirants for the BJP ticket and should the party oblige by denying Kaur the ticket, chances are congress may upstage the ruling party.”

To explore the winning prospects of various ticket aspirants, BJP state president Khimi Ram is scheduled to hold a workers meet at Nalagarh on Thursday.

Though congress managed to muster a show of strength by bringing all top state leaders on one stage, barring union minister Anand Sharma, for a protest rally during the monsoon session but the opposition has largely failed to pin the government on most issues.

A congress committee led by senior leader GS Bali assigned by Virender Chaudhary, general secretary and party incharge for Himachal, the task of preparing a charge sheet against the Prem Kumar Dhumal government has failed to meet the 15th August deadline for it.

With the charge sheet not likely to be ready before the by-election, the going for the congress in Nalagarh is already an uphill task.

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