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Pithoragarh bypoll: Stakes high for BJP


Press Trust of India Dehradun
Facing the challenge of defending a seat vacated by a party heavyweight like the late Prakash Pant, the stakes are high for the ruling BJP in Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh assembly seat where a bypoll is slated for November 25.
Loss of a seat may not affect the fate of the BJP government in the state which enjoys an absolute majority with a tally of 57 out of a total of 70 assembly seats in its kitty but retaining Pithoragarh is important more for the sake of the party's prestige than for mere numerics, political observers here feel.
Pant was a major party leader from the state known for his in-depth knowledge of legislative rules and procedures to whom new members, regardless of their party affiliations, turned for valuable advice.
He enjoyed the image of being the BJP's main troubleshooter in the state assembly who strongly defended the party in case of attacks by opposition.
Pant, who heldthe key portfolios of Finance and Parliamentary Affairs in the Trivendra Singh Rawat government at the time of his untimely death, also had the distinction of being the youngest speaker of the state assembly.
When the BJP swept to power in Uttarakhand in 2017, his name along with that of T S Rawat was also considered for the top job.
In a backdrop like this, retaining the high profile seat is very important for the BJP and it will leave no stone unturned to ensure that, the observers said.
Banking largely on the popularity of Pant, who represented the seat thrice in the state assembly and died battling cancer during his tenure, the party wants to field someone from his family from the seat.
Pant had won thrice from the seat in 2002, 2007 and 2017.
Though his wife Chandra Devi was the party's first preference as its candidate, its choice now is veering towards his younger brother Bhupesh who used to manage Pant's election affairs in successive poll battles as she has refused to contest and decided to back her brother-in-law.
Eying sympathy votes following Pant's untimely demise, BJP sources here said Bhupesh's name figures on top of the panel of proposed candidates for the seat sent to the central leadership.
There are other names too in the panel like those of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam chairman Kedar Joshi and Pithoragarh Municipal Board chairman Rajendra Rawat.
"But Bhupesh is most likely to have the last laugh due to being Pant's younger brother. The backing of Chandra Devi, the widow of Pant, has further shored up his chances of being fielded," a senior party leader requesting anonymity said.
The only point that seems to go against Bhupesh is that he is a relative newcomer for whom it will be hard to step into his elder brother's shoes in terms of stature.
However, the final call is to be taken by the party's central leadership which may take a few days more to announce the candidate for the seat, he said.
The Congress is also trying to put its best foot forward to improve its 10-seat tally in the state assembly by fielding former two-time MLA Mayukh Mahar from the seat who had defeated Pant there in 2012.
Though Mahar is said to be not keen to contest he may have to finally give in under pressure from his supporters, PCC president Pritam Singh and former chief minister Harish Rawat.
"Mayukh Mahar is the best candidate for Pithoragarh," Harish Rawat said in a post on the social media.
The AICC general secretary also promised to campaign for him in Pithoragarh.
The name of PCC spokesman Mathura Dutt Joshi, who has long political experience of 40 years to back him, is also doing the rounds as a possible contender for the seat.

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First Published: Oct 30 2019 | 4:35 PM IST

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