Battle for survival in Himachal Pradesh

By Kalyani Shankar. Dated: 11/9/2017 11:39:06 PM

Congress' poor campaign may favour BJP

While all eyes are on the outcome of the Gujarat Assembly polls on December 18 (the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP chief Amit Shah), the neighbouring tiny mountain state Himachal Pradesh is no less important politically. If the ruling Congress retains power, it would give a moral boost to the party. If the BJP wins the state, it would mean the winning streak of the BJP continues. So stakes are high for both the parties, which have been alternating in power since 1988 in the state. It is a direct fight as there is no third factor like former Telecom Minister Sukhram Sharma's Himachal Vikas Congress in 1998 and 2003 and the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2007. In 2012, again, there was the Himachal Lokhit Party, started by former state BJP president Maheshwar Singh.
Unable to find any strong leader to replace the chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the Congress has projected the 83-year-old warhorse as its chief ministerial face. He has proved his worth over the past five decades but will he still hold sway in the state? Singh is fighting the battle for his survival and also for establishing his son Vikramaditya Singh who is contesting from Shimla rural.
While the Congress has been concentrating on its re-emergence in Gujarat, Himachal has been left to the mercy of Singh who is facing corruption charges in the Delhi High Court. The Chief Minister is single-handedly campaigning conducting 15 to 20 meetings in two to three constituencies every day. Singh is old and facing strong anti-incumbency. Secondly, the campaign has been a very low profile. Thirdly, the senior Congress leaders seem to have given a miss to visit the state. Except three rallies by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and frequent visits by former Union minister Anand Sharma who hails from the state, the campaign has been really pathetic. The Congress does not even have a war room and Singh is not willing to spend money for a losing state. This has led to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi make snide remarks in his campaign rallies (he has already done seven rallies so far): "No senior Congress leader came here to campaign… They have the left the field leaving everything on fate."
The BJP, on the other hand has nominated the former chief minister Dhumal as its CM face last week. The tilting of the dominant Rajput votes (38 per cent) towards Virbhadra Singh led to a last-minute decision to declare Dhumal as the CM candidate. Dhumal is also in his seventies. He is fighting his battle for survival as he had been sidelined after his defeat in 2012. Interestingly, both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal are seeking re-election from new seats and that is not going to be easy for them.
With no dearth of funds, the BJP has electrified the campaign blending traditional rallies, newspaper advertisements, spots on radio and television as well as visible social media campaign to woo the voters. It has several vehicles mounted with huge television screens for campaign and street plays. It is also building an alternative narrative to the Congress poll campaign touting Modi as its mascot.
Personal attacks and negative campaign dominate the elections in Himachal Pradesh. The contenders, who had alternated for two decades in power, have tailored their respective campaigns around corruption scandals against each other. The contest is on the twin poll planks of corruption and development. Both sides have fielded millionaires as Data shows that out of the 338 candidates in the fray, 158 (47 per cent) are crorepatis. Dhumal is also battling the party's decision to field more than two- dozen candidates with criminal cases. A confident Dhumal believes that the wind is favourable to the BJP. The BJP has also launched the "Hisab Mange Himachal" campaign, in which it is seeking answers from Congress MLAs. The BJP is also upbeat because it has won the municipal corporation elections in Shimla for the first time considered stronghold of the Congress.
The ruling Congress in Himachal Pradesh has promised many things in its manifesto promising to strengthen the farm sector by granting interest-free loans to farmers, creation of 1.50 lakh jobs in the government sector and free laptops to 50,000 college students. Congress also claims to have had fulfilled 95 per cent of poll promises and would implement the remaining promises and fresh promises in the next term, if voted to power.
The Congress faces anti incumbency, internal fights, lack of development, lack of funds in the state unit of the party. The BJP has promised a 'Gudiya' fund, on the lines of the Nirbhaya Fund.
The BJP has also promised a 24/7 helpline, apart from a safety app and a women's police force. Both parties are, however, silent on the intermittent network connectivity in rural areas.
On balance, if the BJP wins it would be the 20th state in the BJP's kitty if it wins this time. Polls are always unpredictable and Himachal Pradesh is no exception. It all depends on whom the dame luck favours.
— (IPA Service)



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