In June 2013, Pratibha Singh, the wife of then Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh won a bypoll from the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency, which had been vacated by her husband after he took over as CM.
She secured over 60 percent of the votes, comfortably ahead of her rival from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose name is Jairam Thakur.
Thakur is presently the CM of Himachal Pradesh and Pratibha Singh has now won the recently concluded bypoll in Mandi, necessitated following the demise of BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma.
The question many are asking is – will this bypoll now lead to the removal of Jairam Thakur as CM of Himachal Pradesh?
A CM like Vijay Rupani of Gujarat was removed despite the BJP winning a string of local body polls and bypolls in the state.
The results in Himachal, which goes to polls along with Gujarat, have been far worse. Besides Mandi, the BJP also faced defeats at the hands of the Congress in Jubbal Kotkhai, Fatehpur as well as Late Virbhadra Singh's seat Arki, in the recent bypolls.
The question is what led to the BJP's defeat and what could lie ahead in the state where elections are due in a year's time.
REASONS FOR THE BJP'S DEFEAT
1. Price Rise
This became a major issue for the bypolls. Protests against inflation have been going on in the state for the past six months and the anger culminated during the bypolls.
CM Jairam Thakur also admitted that price rise led to the party's defeat in the polls, in effect laying the blame at the Centre's doorstep, since prices on fuel and LPG fall under the Centre's domain.
2. Apple Growers' Woes
In at least Mandi and Jubbal Kotkhai, the BJP seems to have suffered due to the woes of apple growers in state.
The price of apples is reported to have fallen to 65 to 70 percent of the wholesale rates, despite the increase in input costs. This is said to have been due to the efforts of a cartel to control the prices given to farmers while selling them at higher rates in the market.
Nowhere was the apple factor stronger than in Jubbal Kotkhai, which fell vacant following the death of former Horticulture Minister Narendra Bragta. Bragta's policies are said to have been helpful to apple growers.
His son Chetan Bragta accused the state government of cheating apple growers and contested as an Independent after being denied a ticket by the party. He even chose apple as his election symbol.
In the bypoll, Chetan Bragta secured 42 percent votes, behind the Congress' Rohit Thakur at 53 percent. The BJP's official candidate Neelam Seraik lost her deposit at just 5 percent.
3. Anger Against State Government
According to CVoter founder Yashwant Deshmukh, "data indicates that there's a great deal of dissatisfaction against the chief minister. The bypoll results reflects only confirm this."
Deshmukh also points out that many of the CMs replaced recently had fared poorly in CVoter's tracker – be it Tirath Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand, Vijay Rupani in Gujarat, BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka, and Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab.
In addition to these factors, in at least Mandi and Arki if not other seats, the Congress also may have benefited due to some amount of sympathy following four-time CM Virbhadra Singh's demise.
There have also been reports that the BJP government suffered at least in Mandi due to the four-laning issue.
WHY THIS RESULT IS SIGNIFICANT
The Quint's analysis of data from past bypolls showed that about two in three bypolls in Himachal Pradesh have been won by the party in power in the state.
Therefore, a complete 4:0 rout by the Congress against the BJP does indicate a clear atmosphere of regime change in the state.
The Congress on its part would now fancy its chances of winning back Himachal in next year's Assembly polls and maintaining the hill state's reputation of voting out incumbents.
The win in Mandi is significant for the Congress for another reason: Pratibha Singh will now be the only Congress MP in north India, except for Punjab and Rae Bareli. In fact, along with Rae Bareli, it is the only Congress seat in north India with an overwhelming Hindu majority.
The BJP on the other hand may be compelled to go back to the drawing board in the hill state and look for a replacement for Jairam Thakur.
Rumours of Thakur being replaced did the rounds even in September after Union Minister and son of former CM PK Dhumal drew large crowds during his Jan Ashirwad Yatra in the state.
However, unlike Gujarat, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand, Jairam Thakur wasn't facing any major factional challenges. This may change now after the bypoll defeat and his rivals may now flex their muscle.
Since the Assembly polls are over a year away, the BJP may even have the option of appointing a CM who is not an MLA as there's time for an existing MLA to resign and a bypoll to be held. This wasn't the case in Uttarakhand and constrained the BJP's options.
The Himachal results will also have a bearing on the other hill state, Uttarakhand, which goes to polls in early 2022.The BJP may now fear a possible loss if the election becomes focused on issues like price rise and anti-incumbency against the state government.
It is likely that the party and Hindutva outfits may intensify their campaign against what they allege is "rising number of Muslims" in Uttarakhand to try and divert attention from rising prices and other governance-related issues.
The Congress on the other hand may draw a lesson from the Uttarakhand win and intensify its campaign around issues like price rise and unemployment.