Just over half the electorate exercised their franchise in the politically crucial bypoll to Tharali assembly constituency in Chamoli district on Monday.
By the end of the day, 53.43 per cent voters had cast their votes, district information officer in-charge of the election control room GS Bisht said. Though largely peaceful, the bypoll was boycotted at Devsari village in the Dewal area by voters to protest against their demand for a road not being fulfilled, he said.
The bypoll to the constituency was necessitated following the death of BJP MLA Magan Lal Shah in February. The ruling BJP in Uttarakhand has fielded Shah’s widow and district panchayat chairperson Munni Devi, while Congress has fielded Jeet Ram, a former MLA who had lost the seat to Shah in 2017 assembly election.
Unlike the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh where the Opposition has united to take on the BJP in bypoll to Kairana assembly constituency, the scene is different in Tharali. Apart from Munni Devi and Jeet Ram, three other candidates are in the fray. Kunwar Ram of Communist Party (Marxist), Kasbi Lal of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and Giri Ram, an Independent, are also contesting for the seat, where the fight is directly between the BJP and Congress.
About 1.2 lakh voters will decide whether the seat will go to the BJP or Congress. The constituency has nearly equal number of male and female voters. Both the bigger parties are contesting the election on local issues.
The bypoll is seen as a litmus test for the Trivendra Singh Rawat government after the saffron party, riding on Modi wave, won 57 out of 70 assembly seats in the 2017 elections. The bypoll results will be crucial given the state may soon the much-delayed polls to the urban civic bodies.
Despite withdrawing the list of star campaigners — BJP recalled names of party chief Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and central ministers Smriti Irani and Thavar Chand Gehlot and the Congress that of party national president Rahul Gandhi, actor-turned-politician and UP party chief Raj Babbar and cricketer-turned Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu — the two parties left no stone unturned while canvassing.
BJP state unit president Ajay Bhatt sounded confident of victory. He said BJP’s connect with voters, hard work by cadres, and the chief minister’s clean image would help them secure an easy win.
The Opposition Congress, however, feels inflation and rising fuel prices would prove too hot for the BJP.
Apart from Bhatt, CM Rawat, party state in-charge Shyam Jaju and cabinet minister camped in the constituency seeking votes for Munni Devi.
For Congress, the canvassing was led by former chief minister Harish Rawat, party president Pritam Singh and his deputy Suryakant Dhasmana.
Earlier, the Congress had lodged a complaint with the state election office against CM and other ministers accusing them of “distributing” cash among the voters in Tharali. Dhasmana had accused CM of “carrying cash in his helicopter to distribute it among voters in the constituency”.
Terming it an open violation of the model code of conduct and misuse of government machinery, the complaint said choppers used by the chief minister to reach the constituency must be examined. “TS Rawat’s predecessor and senior Congress leader Harish Rawat underwent a similar procedure ahead of the Assembly polls last year,” the memorandum read.
The Congress and the BJP were engaged in a bitter war of words during last year’s assembly polls in the state after the former CM’s chopper was inspected by an Election Commission team in Haldwani on two different occasions.