With the desperation to win growing amongst two main parties, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, allegations are flying thick and fast in run-up to the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections with rival parties threatening to sue each other.
Both parties made tall promises to woo voters. From public welfare schemes to curbing unemployment, the manifestos were packaged with promises to appease all. In reality, public issues and electoral debates this time have been put on the backburner.
Leaders in the Congress and BJP are talking less about their future agenda for the state and are indulging more in unabated mudslinging. Amidst of election campaign, the BJP fired a salvo at Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Virbhadra Singh of corruption, forgery, money laundering and faking income tax records. The BJP was quick to rake up issue of "VBS" as mentioned in a diary seized by income tax during raids at a steel company office. The expose in media added new dimensions to the poll campaign. The Ispat controversy came as ammunition the BJP had been waiting for a long time.
From highlighting its achievement of five years, BJP shifted its entire focus on Virbhadra Singh. One after the other, party leaders and even the national leadership fired salvos at Singh. The BJP left its positive style of campaigning and began to negate Singh. The party leaders, in press conferences and press statements, accused Singh of corruption, while the Congress leaders fumbled to counter it.
"The issue is not whether minister puts his initials as VS or VBS," BJP leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said when he was in Shimla two days back.
"What we need to investigate is what those entries mean. It is a money trail, from Mumbai to Shimla," that's how Jaitley commented on Virbhadra Singh.
Left to battle it out alone, Singh termed BJP's accusation as a "malicious" campaign against him. He described the BJP leader's utterances as an attempt to assassinate his character. Singh has further decided to take legal recourse. "I reserve my right. I will take legal action. I will sue them. I will file defamation suits; let them be prepared to face consequences of false allegations. My biggest asset is my honour, my dignity," Singh said. "I cannot allow any Tom, Dick and Harry to point fingers at my character, my honesty and my integrity," says Singh who made it clear that he is desisting from mudslinging campaign what is witnessed in Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
On the other side, the Bharatiya Janata Party has its own explanation. "It was the Congress that started mudslinging against chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. We had to reply them back in the same coin," says BJP's state vice-president Praveen Sharma. "From beginning, our campaign was more focused on positive side. The Congress had spoiled the playing field," he says, adding that the BJP has once again focused its campaign on the positive side.
Congress spokesman Naresh Chauhan expresses dissatisfaction over negative campaigning. "It is for time that the BJP as launched a personalised campaign rather than focusing the campaign on public-related issues. It only shows their frustration while the Congress so far has restraint from making personal allegations," says Congress spokesman Naresh Chauhan.
Neutral election analysts feel that both parties are trying to derail the campaign by resorting to more personalised campaign. "Election is the time when parties make commitment to people. This is the time when people want to know what the parties would do for them," says Rajinder Chauhan a retired professor from Himachal Pradesh University's political science department. "Both Congress and BJP want to people take position behind Virbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal instead of debating the real issues," he feels.