CHANDIGARH: In the idyllic hill state of Himachal Pradesh, there is no other issue to debate in the face of all-round support for national sentiments, which overwhelmingly dominate the poll narrative this year.
The Balakot airstrikes and the NDA slogans around it have found full-throated support, even as local issues which agitate the people have been relegated to the background.
The ruling BJP is hoping to replicate its 2014 performance when it swept all the four Lok Sabha seats riding on a Narendra Modi wave. The Modi factor may not be as pronounced this year, yet, a faction-ridden Congress is unable to stand up to the Saffron tide in the state.
Himachal Pradesh has historically witnessed a bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress. Local issues of agrarian distress, lack of employment avenues do exist. State employees are also upset over the government’s failure to constitute a committee for revision of their pension. Besides, issues of loan waiver, farmers’ debts, slow pace of development, non-expansion of rail network and safety of women do get debated from time to time, only to be stilled.
The Congress is targeting the Saffron party over its unkept promises such as hiking import duty on apples, make 5% fruit juice mandatory in all soft drinks sold in the state to keep orchards going, besides setting up fruit processing units and trial status to Giri areas.
The ruling BJP, which came to power over one-and-a-half years ago, has managed to hold on to its advantage, which the Congress has found hard to erode. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, a young first-timer, has no legacy of any corruption, non-performance or dynasty.
On the other hand, Congress is a divided house. Former CM Virbhadra Singh was rumoured to have not been allowed his way in allotment of party tickets. Though the grand old man of Himachal politics has been campaigning hard for the four Congress candidates, he also left his party red-faced by praising CM, who he has often described as a “gentleman” and “a person committed to Himachal’s development”.
Tough fight for grandson of Sukh Ram
After Aashray Sharma, the grandson of 91-year old former Union telecom minister Sukh Ram who rejoined the Congress party along with Aashray recently, is finding the going tough from Mandi parliamentary seat despite veteran Virbhadra Singh’s unconditional support for him.