Bilaspur town is historically 400 years old. Sutlej river passes through the centre of this district that has four constituencies – Jhanduta, Ghumarwin, Bilaspur and Sri Naina Devi – with 3.3 lakh voters. It has a total of 1,088 villages. Govind Sagar Lake in Bilaspur acts as a reservoir for Bhakra and Nangal Dam. Sri Naina Devi is a popular pilgrimage in the district. Bilaspur has geographical boundaries with Una, Mandi, Hamirpur, and Solan districts. The name of this district was derived from the name of a fisherwoman Bilasa. Farming is the main profession. Wheat, maize, oilseeds, etc. are grown by farmers, apart from vegetables. Natural farming is also popular in the district. However irrigation facilities are less in the region.
Bilaspur district has three BJP MLAs and one Congress legislator from Sri Naina Devi. New township of Bilaspur is considered as the first planned township of the hill town. Voters of this constituency and many other districts of Himachal too are upset over non- implementation of ‘factor 2 formula of land reward’ in rural areas if the land is acquired by government for some projects.
The previous Congress government had implemented ‘factor 1 formula’ in 2015 after a due notification, wherein the compensation given to residents while acquiring their land for various national highway projects was double the market rate. At that time BJP had raised a hue and cry and made a promise in 2017 poll campaign that if voted to power BJP will implement ‘factor 2 formula of land reward’, wherein the compensation increases to four times the market value of the land acquired in rural areas. However, poor compensation had remained an issue throughout the five-year tenure of the current BJP government, and activists were up in arms throughout the state, including Bilaspur. Voters say that the compensation was paid as per ‘factor 1 formula’ only in the last five years and they are questioning the BJP’s poll promise made in 2017.
Also, the rebel factor is a thorn in BJP’s side across Himachal Pradesh, and Bilaspur is no exception. Factionalism is in almost every constituency. Party rebel Subhash Sharma is contesting in Bilaspur, much to the chagrin of Nadda as Bilaspur is the BJP national president’s home district.
A look at the four constituencies of Bilaspur:
MLA: Jeet Ram Katwal (BJP)
In fray: Jeet Ram Katwal (BJP); Vivek Kumar Kishore (INC); Sudhir Kumar Suman (AAP); Amarnath (BSP)
It is a reserved constituency. BSP candidate is also trying his luck because of the party’s fixed vote bank. BJP has been winning this seat for the past 10 years. In 2012, BJP’s Rikhi Ram Kondal won. Sitting MLA Katwal has been given ticket again, while Congress is trying Vivek Kumar Kishore for the first time. Congress’s Beeru Ram Kishore had lost to BJP candidates in 2017 and 2012. BJP has not been able to control the rebels as Raj Kumar Kondal, son of former MLA Rikhi Ram Kondal, is contesting as an independent. A total of seven candidates are in the fray in this constituency.
MLA: Rajender Garg (BJP)
In fray: Rajender Garg (BJP); Rajesh Dharmani (INC); Rakesh Kumar Chopra (AAP)
Sitting MLA Rajender Garg is BJP’s choice in Ghumarwin. This seat has 92% of rural votes as per the 2011 Census. From 1985 to 2017, a total of eight assembly elections have taken place on this seat out of which Congress has won five times. Congress candidate Rajesh Dharmani had won in 2007 and 2012, but he lost to BJP’s Rajender Garg by a margin of 10,435 votes in 2017. However, Congress has invested in Dharmani again, while BJP too is banking on Garg. This constituency has a total of eight candidates.
MLA: Subhash Thakur (BJP)
In fray: Trilok Jamwal (BJP); Bumber Thakur (INC); Amar Singh (AAP)
Bilaspur has nine candidates in the fray. These include BJP rebel Subhash Sharma, a Nadda loyalist. Party candidate Trilok Jamwal is another Nadda loyalist and also political adviser to Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur. Subhash rued that as Trilok was part of BJP’s organisational structure, he shouldn’t have been given the ticket. To mark his protest, he is contesting as an independent. Interestingly, sitting MLA Subhash Thakur was denied ticket and hence he too is sulking along with his supporters. However, he refrained from going public. Congress’s Bumber Thakur had lost to Subhash Thakur in 2017, but the grand old party has given him one more chance this time. Bilaspur is important for BJP as it is Nadda’s old seat. He had contested his first assembly election from Bilaspur in 1993 and won. Subsequently, Nadda won in 1998 and 2007 as well from Bilaspur. He was a cabinet minister in the BJP-led Himachal Pradesh government in 1998 and 2007.
Sri Naina Devi
MLA: Ram Lal Thakur (INC)
In fray: Randhir Sharma (BJP); Ram Lal Thakur (INC); Narender Singh (AAP)
This constituency popular for pilgrimage (Sri Naina Devi) chose Congress MLA Ram Lal Thakur who had narrowly defeated BJP’s Randhir Sharma by a margin of 1,142 votes in 2017. Randhir is considered a loyalist of BJP’s former state CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. Though there were many contenders, but Randhir was given one more chance. However soon after Randhir’s name was announced, many BJP workers had protested raising slogans “Randhir hatao bhajpa bachao”. Daulat Ram Sharma, a ticket contender, had even organised a ‘chai pe charcha’ programme in the constituency where BJP workers vented their anger at the party’s choice of candidate demanded a change of candidate. However, the high command dug in its heels. Instead it organised a meeting to pacify the rebels. Five candidates are in the fray for this seat. CPM and BSP have also fielded their candidates from Sri Naina Devi.