Himachal elections 2017: It’s a two-horse race
Despite the strong anti-incumbency wave, both the Congress and the BJP are facing stiff opposition from dissidents who were denied tickets and are now contesting as independentsanalysis Updated: Oct 26, 2017 16:32 IST
Assembly elections in India are largely seen in terms of caste, community, development, employment, crime, corruption and leadership vacuums. As Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls on November 9, these issues are again likely to play on the voters’ minds. Along with, of course, local factors which come into play every five years such as Himachal’s large employee force, the royal cult and the traditional horticulturist and the agriculturist divide.
Politics in Himachal Pradesh has largely hovered around a bipolarity for many decades with the Congress and the BJP being the chief protagonists. The idea of third party or front has failed apart from a few instances of sporadic successes such as the time the Himachal Log Rag Party was founded in 1967 by Thakur Sen Negi and JBL Khachi; the Janata Dal by Vijay Mankotia in 1990; the Himachal Vikas Congress by Pandit Sukh Ram in 1997 and the Himachal Lokhit Party by Maheshwar Singh in 2012. National parties such as the BSP, SP, CPI, CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress have also fought elections in the past but with no significant gains. The Left has been a consistent contender but has a negligible presence.
While the Congress has breached the governmental and organisational divide by declaring Virbhadra Singh as its chief ministerial candidate, the BJP lags on this front. Its strategy of declaring the candidate after elections may work against it because of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s clout and overarching influence in the party when pitted against others.
However, both the parties are facing stiff opposition from dissidents who were denied tickets and are now contesting as independents. The parachute landing of certain candidates with an unscrupulous past may tarnish the BJP’s image. The Congress has lived up to its dynastic reputation since family members of big names such as Virbhadra Singh, Kaul Singh, RN Sharma and Brij Bihari Lal Butel have been fielded.
A strong anti-incumbency feeling has always played a significant role in Himachal politics. This is partially owing to a big workforce of government employees who are vertically split on party lines and leverage it to extract more from governments. But entrenched caste or community equations such as Brahmin-Rajput, Girath, Chaudhary, Gaddi, Muslim and Sikh are confined to certain areas and may not influence voting considerations too strongly. The recent penetration of the BJP into the remote regions of old Himachal, once an area of influence of the Congress, may affect the poll dynamic this time round.
But the contest to watch will be between Raja Virbhadra Singh and Professor Prem Kumar Dhumal. The Modi wave has diluted to an extent over the months because of the huge distance between the central government’s commitments and performance. Demonetisation and GST have further marginalised the poor and middle classes. Although, the current government has not performed badly in employment generation, corruption charges and the recent spurt in crime have alienated the voters.
Harish K. Thakur is chairman, department of political science, HP University, Shimla
The views expressed are personal