Depending upon the way one looks at it, the bypoll to the Salt Constituency in Uttarakhand has come at an opportune time for the main political parties of the state. It will be a good test of the ruling party’s popularity at a critical time before the state assembly election, although the local factors will also play a role. The ruling BJP has changed its Chief Minister, recently, and it is being generally considered a vote of no-confidence in the performance of its earlier incumbent, Trivendra Singh Rawat. The party publicly claims otherwise, claiming it had more to do with internal factors. It becomes all the more necessary, therefore, for the party to present its case effectively in the Salt election, for which it will require to deploy its best and brightest campaigners.
The late Surendra Singh Jeena of the BJP, who held the Salt seat, was one of its best performers in the Assembly. When the party was in the opposition, he was among the few legislators who kept the government on the back foot through his raising of issues and excellent repartee. He did not spare his own party’s government, either. As such, his shoes will be very hard to fill. Despite his stature, he did not have it easy in the 2017 election, and defeated his Congress rival, Ganga Singh Pancholi, by ‘only’ 2904 votes, although in terms of votes cast, it comprised a lead of 6.62 percent in a relatively low turnout situation.
The Congress has chosen to go with Pancholi in the coming contest, while the BJP believes it will reap the sympathy factor by fielding Mahesh Singh Jeena, the late MLA’s elder brother. Considering that it is a bypoll, the turnout is likely to be even lower, making the victory margin an even narrower one. At the same time, however, it will be an opportunity for both parties to test the waters; particularly if there is anything like anti-incumbency on the rise. The parties will also be able to work out what works with the electorate in the present circumstances and make necessary course corrections. If there is a decline in its support base, the BJP may even choose to have early elections.
It is not known, yet, whether other parties will also put up candidates. There is the UKD, always willing to raise the problems of the hill people, and newbie AAP, whose ambitions presently go way beyond its actual capacity. Whatever happens, the game is well and truly on.