The Nitin Gadkari controversy, intense factionalism between two stalwarts -Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal - and the failure of those spearheading the campaign to divert attention from local issues to national matters could impact the overall performance of the BJP in Sunday's polls, for which
campaigning ended on Friday.
The Congress, on its part, was greatly affected by the negative perception against its government at the Centre, the various scams and rising prices. Thursday's announcement of a hike in LPG prices - which was reversed late at night - would have made things extremely difficult for the party nominees but for timely intervention by its high command. The biggest positive for the Congress was the overwhelming role played by its five-time ex-CM, Virbhadra Singh.
Both sides suffered greatly by the presence of rebels but in the long run, barring about half a dozen seats, they would not be factors in Sunday's polls. The general impression here is that the Congress would emerge as the single largest party and therefore may form the government. There are 68 seats in the Himachal Vidhan Sabha, and any party in the striking distance of the halfway mark would rule from Shimla.
The CPM and the BSP candidates, besides those belonging to smaller parties, are expected to bag some seats.
The BJP would have fared much better if it had managed to overcome the feeling of neglect in the Kangra region which accounts for 15 seats. The perception here is that the Dhumal government deliberately ignored this area since it has more support for Shanta Kumar. What complicated matters was that some MLAs from here submitted "two charge sheets" against Dhumal and his sons to the central leadership accusing them of neglect.
Congress leaders, like Vijay Singh Mankotia, have accused Dhumal of mortgaging the state to non-Himachalis and have also alleged that Rajiv Bindal, former health minister and BJP nominee from Nahan was hand in glove with builders and land sharks.
The outcome from Kangra will determine who will rule state in this closely fought election.
Though the BJP initially started by leveling charges against Virbhadra, they could not sustain the momentum because the serious charges being made against Gadkari upset its rhythm. Virbhadra, who is a seasoned campaigner, mended his differences with Mankotia, Sukh Ram and a few others and therefore was one leader who was in the greatest demand during the polls. He campaigned in nearly 60 constituencies and appears confident to form the government.
The Congress effort here was sought to be curbed by some central leaders who are obviously looking at the aftermath of the polls with a certain defeat staring the party in Gujarat. "If the Congress wins in Himachal and loses in Gujarat, then those looking after Gujarat will be obviously held responsible. Otherwise, they can explain that the party lost at both the places due to negative perception against it," a senior party leader said on condition of anonymity.
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