KANGRA (HIMACHAL PRADESH): Even while half the population of Himachal Pradesh is aged between 18-40, the electoral battle in Shimla has been confined to two elders—incumbent chief minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, and BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73. Both are seeking to consolidate their respective bastions of Lower Himachal (Dhumal) and Upper Himachal (Singh) and ward off each other from making dents in their comfort zones.
The BJP is wary of the ghost of the 2012 polls when faction fighting within the party cost it the pole finish. The BJP had ceded its Lower Himachal bastion, which accounts for 38 of the total 68 seats in the state.
In the end, the BJP polled just four per cent less votes in 2012 as the Congress polling 42.81 per cent votes had won 36 seats, leaving the saffron outfit behind with 26 seats with 38.83 per cent votes.
Top guns of the BJP—Dhumal, J P Nadda (Bilaspur) and Shanta Kumar (Chamba)—hail from Lower Himachal. Singh is from Shimla. The Congress counts on its traditional Gurkha support base to beat the anti-incumbency factor, besides chief minister’s popularity.
Singh claims his government has done much more developmental works in the last five years than all his previous terms. Locals vouch for his claims—a new professional college and a 100-seat bed hospital in Jwalamukhi. Sudesh Rana, a local, says “raja saheb (chief minister)” has done a lot of developmental works in the state.
Dhumal told The Sunday Standard that five years of Congress rule has derailed the development trajectory of the state. “Himachal Pradesh had got 185 awards from various institutions for initiatives on ease of doing business. Baddi (in Solan district) was ranked ahead of Surat in attracting investment in textile,” Dhumal said.
Locals say the government here changes every five years irrespective of development claims.
“The chief minister said he would leave the state if the BJP wins 60 seats. He will conveniently forget his claims on December 18, though the BJP will not be vindictive,” Dhumal said, adding that the BJP is contesting on the slogan of “abki bar saath past (this time more than 60)”.
While the two Thakurs (Singh and Dhumal) slug it out for a lion share of caste votes (about 30 per cent), the BJP is counting on Nadda and former Union minister Sukh Ram’s son Anil Sharma to take a big chunk of the 20 per cent Brahmin vote base.
Besides, there are 19 reserved Assembly seats (17 SC and two ST), which the Congress in 2012 had won by bagging 14. The BJP is counting on its Shimla MP Virendra Kashyap to turn around the party’s fortune in the reserved seats even while Dalits constitute almost 18 per cent of the total electorate.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have sought to give a leg up to the party’s campaign with their intense electioneering. The CM is carrying out a lonely battle as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is expected to address only two rallies in the hilly state.
A BJP win here will boost the BJP’s “Congress Mukt Bharat” slogan as it will count the 19th state in its kitty. If Raja Sahab beats anti-incumbency, the small state could cause a big tremor in the saffron juggernaut under Shah.