The low turnout of 43.28 percent in polling for the Salt Assembly seat on Saturday has the two main political parties worried. Being a largely inconsequential bypoll in terms of who runs the state, it is not surprising that relatively few people felt it necessary to exercise their franchise. Coupled with the Covid-19 situation, the enthusiasm was low. The turnout here in the 2017 assembly election was 2.5 percent higher, while it was a mere 38 percent in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019. This indicates that the constituency anyway does not score high regarding turnout.
The Congress, whose candidate Ganga Pancholi ended up number two in the previous contest against the late Surendra Singh Jeena with a margin of 6.62 percent of votes cast, has been pitching the bypoll as a test of the BJP Government’s popularity, particularly of the new CM, Tirath Singh Rawat. It has been presented as a ‘semifinal’ before the assembly elections expected to be held some ten months from now. It is upbeat because the BJP has fielded the late MLA’s brother Mahesh Singh Jeena in the hope of harvesting a ‘sympathy’ vote, while Pancholi is an established politician. A victory for the Congress would be a huge morale booster, giving substance to its claim that the BJP has lost public support in the state. Unfortunately, the party’s inner rivalry may play spoilsport as an earlier Congress MLA from Salt, Ranjeet Rawat, is not pleased with the party line established by his former mentor, former CM Harish Rawat. As a result, his supporters may not have turned out for the party candidate.
The result will be known on 2 May, when counting is to take place. Usually, when there is lower than normal turnout, it is an indication of voters’ disinterest in change. Quite obviously, neither the BJP nor the Congress have been able to enthuse the voters, who are very likely aware of the inconsequence of the contest in a situation where they will be asked to make another choice in just a matter of months. So, it has probably been the core voters of both parties that have turned out. The winning margin is likely to be even smaller than the previous one. Despite all that, it will give an indication of the mood of the people if the signs are read rightly. This is even more so with regard to the Chief Minister, who had made the campaign a matter of his own prestige.