Himachal poll a high-stakes battle for BJP and Congress
SHIMLA: The upcoming assembly election in Himachal Pradesh holds immense political significance for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Though Himachal Pradesh is a small state that does not wield much influence over national politics, it is one of the two territorial entities in the country (the other being Gujarat) that will indicate which way the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are likely to turn.
The Congress ruled the state for three continuous terms from 1963 to 1977, until Shanta Kumar of the Janata Party broke its monopoly to form the first nonCongress government in Shimla. Since then, the pendulum of power in the state has been swinging between the Congress and the BJP.
In order to make a comeback in the hills, the saffron party is cashing in on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘charisma’ and the schemes rolled out during his three-year rule at the Centre.
Modi, who has served as its party in-charge for state affairs in the years gone by, repeatedly visited Himachal to bolster the BJP poll campaign. National president Amit Shah also focused on improving the party’s political prospects by holding a series of rallies and meetings.
The Himachal polls may well be the litmus test for Shah’s organisational skills. He has succeeded in keeping intra-party squabbles among ambitious leaders at bay thus far.
The party is yet to announce its chief ministerial face, although veteran leaders such as Prem Kumar Dhumal, Jagat Parkash Nadda and Shanta Kumar have made attempts to project themselves as prominent choices.
It may be recalled that the party had lost in 2012 — scoring just 26 in the 68-member legislative assembly — primarily due to the factional fight between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar. It faced rebellion in as many as 18 seats, and two made it to the assembly as independent candidates.
Meanwhile, a troubled Congress is counting on its old war horse – six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh – despite the corruption and disproportionate assets cases lodged against him.
Modi has himself attacked Virbhadra for corruption and “misrule”, and the harried Congress leader will find emerging successful difficult with time wasted shuttling between Delhi and Shimla in connection with his cases. This time, Virbhadra also faces a challenge from within. State party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu managed to cling on to the post despite stiff opposition from the veteran. Infighting reached a point where Virbhadra threatened to stay away from election campaigning .
“...voters will also evaluate the distance between the commitment and achievement of the PM Narendera Modi led government . There is huge gap between what he promised and what he delivered” says Harish Thakur , head of Political science, Himachal Pradesh university
The Congress garnered 42.81% of the vote share in the 2012 assembly polls while the BJP managed 38.47%