By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 26 Oct: A lot is at stake for the BJP and even more for the party government in respect of Pithoragarh by-poll to be held on 25 November. The counting will be held on 28 November and the results will be announcedthe same day. It may be recalled that Pithoragarh Assembly seat had fallen vacant due to untimely death of Cabinet Minister Prakash Pant on 5 June this year. A very popular leader, Pant had a very clean image and was known to be a very humble person. Easily approachable for everyone in Uttarakhand, he was widely respected even by his political opponents. He not only held crucial portfolios of Parliamentary Affairs and Finance but also proved to be the most important trouble- shooter for Trivendra Singh Rawat due to his very efficient handling of the assembly affairs on behalf of the whole government. His ability to respond to the sharpest of attacks by the opposition in the state assembly with a disarming smile was something that even his opponents admired. Suffering from lung cancer, his disease was diagnosed only in the last stage and he passed away on 5 June in a US hospital, leaving a large vacuum in the government and the party. So far the vacancy created by his death in the cabinet has not been filled. He was among the tallest leaders in the Uttarakhand BJP and the BJP is finding it difficult to find his replacement. While Congress is most likely to field Mayukh Singh Mahar who had defeated him in the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP is still uncertain whom to field from the constituency. Mahar hails from a very powerful family in Pithoragarh and was considered to be a very strong political opponent even for Prakash Pant himself. He has a good hold over the electorate from this constituency. Sources indicated that the BJP was considering fielding someone from the Pant family from the seat though Suresh Joshi is also lobbying hard to get the ticket. Joshi is considered close to many party leaders at the Central level but it remains to be seen if he is still able to secure party ticket or not. On the other hand, none from the Prakash Pant is lobbying for the ticket, but some party leaders close to the family have already begun lobbying for the party ticket for someone from the family. Sources also claimed that Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat would prefer someone from the family to contest the by- poll as he had a very close relation with Prakash Pant and his death was a personal loss for him. Sources further claimed that the party was considering fielding either the widow of Prakash Pant, Chanda Pant or his brother Bhupesh Pant. Sources claimed that Chanda Pant, a teacher in the government school, had indicated that she was unwilling to join politics and therefore the chances of the BJP fielding Prakash Pant’s younger brother Bhupesh Pant are far greater. Though Bhupesh Pant has never been active in the BJP, but he has been socially active in Pithoragarh and is popular in the constituency. Under the circumstances, the choice for the BJP appears to rest between Bhupesh Pant and Suresh Joshi, who is the party spokesman too. The Pithoragarh unit of the BJP had become active about two weeks ago in respect of the by- poll as it was mandatory to elect the new MLA before 5 December as under the relevant provisions of the Constitution, no assembly or parliamentary seat can remain vacant for more than 6 months. Given the fact, that the BJP’s performance in Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections has not been up to the expectations of the party, there are reasons to be concerned for the CM. Even in Panchayat polls held only a week before, the party’s performance was average despite being the ruling party and the Congress fortunes appeared to be reviving somewhat. Of course, BJP has a very strong majority in the state assembly and loss of one seat will not have any direct bearing on its fortunes, but it is the prestige of the BJP and of the government, which is at stake more than anything else. To lose a seat that was held by one of its tallest leaders can dent the prestige of the government more than anything else whereas a victory for the Congress can be major morale booster for the party particularly in view of the 2022 assembly polls. The Congress which at the moment is facing a severe crisis, will get a major boost if it wins the by-poll and a win can help the party to get its acts together and unite warring factions and bring them on the same platform.