By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
Dehradun, 24 Nov: Almost five months after the death of incumbent MLA from Pithoragarh, Cabinet Minister Prakash Pant, polling will be held tomorrow to elect the new MLA to represent the constituency for the remaining two odd years of the term. Over 850 security personnel have been deputed by the Election Commission to ensure peaceful conduct of the bypoll. Campaigning for the bypoll had ended yesterday evening in the constituency. The major contest is expected between BJP’s Chandra Pant and Congress candidate Anju Lunthi. Both are contesting the assembly polls for the first time. Chandra Pant is the wife of the late Prakash Pant, a very popular party leader across the state, while Anju Lunthi was declared the Congress candidate at the eleventh hour when the efforts of the party to convince former MLA and last time candidate Mayukh Mahar failed to yield any results. BJP has fielded Chandra Pant with an eye on sympathy voting in her favour. Pant had died during treatment at a US Hospital on 5 June this year. He was suffering from Lung cancer which was detected only in the final stage. Pant was known for his charm, humility and easy accessibility and for his grasp of parliamentary affairs. Senior Party leaders from both the BJP and Congress participated in the campaigning for the bypoll. BJP leaders who addressed the public meetings and rallies included Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, BJP State President and MP Ajay Bhatt, several ministers of the BJP Government in Uttarakhand and MPs Ajay Tamta and Tirath Singh Rawat. For the Congress, former CM Harish Rawat and PCC Chief Pritam Singh were among those who addressed the public rallies in the constituency. It may be recalled that Chandra Pant was a teacher in a government school in the state when she was made to voluntarily retire in order to contest the bypoll. Her campaign rested on gaining the sympathy of the electorate and the promise to fulfil the dreams of her late husband for the constituency. Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat too reminded the electorate during his rally that the state government had released a “hefty” amount of Rs 350 crores for the development of Pithoragarh district in the past two years and that this was the highest ever budget amount released in such a short span of time. Ajay Bhatt addressed a few meetings in which he praised Prakash Pant and appealed to the electorate to ensure a huge win for Chandra Pant. On behalf of the Congress, former CM Harish Rawat focussed more on the failures of the state government and spent several days at a stretch in the constituency to campaign for party candidate Anju Lunthi. Mayukh Mahar, the former MLA from here, had been defeated by Pant by a small margin and holds a good influence over the electorate. He belongs to among the richest families in the region, which has had a strong influence among the voters. In fact, after Prakash Pant lost to him in the year 2012, Pant was reluctant to contest from Pithoragarh but was pushed by the party to do so. However, having lost the previous election by a narrow margin, Mahar was probably aware of the sympathy wave in favour of Prakash Pant’s widow and despite all efforts of the party as well as of Harish Rawat, to whom he is considered to be very close, he refused to contest and the party had to field Lunthi as a last minute choice. For a while, Lunthi, had to campaign solely on her own strength but later she did manage to find support from the senior party leaders as well as from Mayukh Mahar and Harish Rawat. Counting will be held on 28 November and the results are expected on the same day. Of course, the BJP has a brute majority in the state assembly and, therefore, the results will have no direct bearing on the state politics but a win for the Congress can prove to be a big morale booster in the run up to the state assembly elections in 2022 for the party which has not done well lately in the state.