Hi­machal poll a high-stakes bat­tle for BJP and Congress

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Nation - Gau­rav.bisht@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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%

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