CHANDIGARH: In a major setback to the ruling Congress government in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, where the Assembly election is just a few months away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the maximum number of seats in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections, leaving behind Congress, which has ruled the civic body for 26 years, in second place.
Candidates supported by the BJP won 17 of the total of 34 seats but the party failed to get a simple majority of 18 members. In what was a close contest, candidates supported by the Congress won 12 seats, independents took four of the seats and a CPI (M)-supported candidate got one seat. None of the candidates contested on party symbols.
Three of the independent candidates have extended their support to the Congress, but the tally would still only go up to 15, three short of the magic figure of 18. The fourth independent candidate, Rajesh Kumar, is a BJP rebel and is likely to extend support to enable his former party to get a simple majority.
The election saw 34 BJP-supported candidates, 27 Congress and 22 CPI (M) candidates, apart from independent candidates. This election was seen as a semi-final before the Assembly elections.
Now the race for the post of Mayor of Shimla, reserved for an SC woman candidate, has hotted up. Of the three wards reserved for Schedule Caste women candidates, BJP and Congress won one each. The post of Deputy Mayor is unreserved. The term for both posts are two-and-a- half years.
Two-time Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal was fighting a battle for his survival, as he had been marginalised since the party’s humiliating defeat in the December 2012 Assembly polls. Dhumal is challenged by Union Health Minister JP Nadda, who is trying to return to state politics ahead of the Assembly elections.
Dhumal’s son and Member of Parliament from Hamirpur, Anurag Thakur said, “The Shimla Municipal Corporation election was our semi-final, and we have won. Now we are going to win the final (Assembly polls) too.”
A senior BJP leader added, “We are going to elect our Mayor and Deputy Mayor with the support of an independent.”
The stakes were high for six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh too in these elections, as he was trying to prove that he was still a mass leader and could lead the party in the forthcoming Assembly polls. The issues that dominated the polls, as before, were water shortage, spread of waterborne diseases, shortage of parking lots, traffic jams and unscientific disposal of solid waste.
In 2012, the CPI(M) won the posts of Mayor and Deputy Mayor, who were elected directly unlike this time. It thus ruled the civic body with its three members in the present 25-member house with the majority of councillors belonging to the BJP.