Winning assembly elections in the state capital, Shimla, has always been a tightrope walk for the two main players - Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress. With inhabitants from different parts of the state, the electorate in Shimla has never sided with any party. It' won't be wrong to say that voters' mood in Shimla has always been a trendsetter for the entire state. The party which wrest Shimla seat most likely forms the government.
This time too, Shimla is heading for a tough electoral battle. There are seven candidates in fray but the contest is triangular. The Congress has pitted former deputy mayor Harish Janartha and BJP has reposed faith in its sitting MLA Suresh Bhardwaj. Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded its deputy mayor Tikender Panwar, whose entry has added a new dimension to the battle.
Gauging the mood of the voters, it's evident that Shimla seat this time could be anybody's game. Till far, none of the candidates in Shimla has won the seat by more than 2,600 votes. Town has seen the victory margin as thin as 159 votes. It was only in 1977 that Janata Party's Daulat Ram Chauhan won the seat with more than 10,000 votes. Congress' Harish Janartha is a first-timer.
Apart from developmental works carried out by the municipal corporation when he was the deputy mayor, Janartha is banking on voters from upper Shimla areas as regionalism always play a significant role here. Janartha, who hails from Tikkar area in Rohru tehsil, is for sure cutting the ice with Pahari (Inhabitants of upper Shimla areas) voters. "I have served you people for ten years as a councillor and deputy mayor. I know your problems better," this is how Janartha strikes a chord with the voters, while he promises to improve the basic amenities and beautification of town.
Janartha, who is known for his elite lifestyle, is simple in his dressing. During the poll campaign, he wears trousers, black leather shoes and Nehru jacket. He travels in a Mahindra Scorpio. Though with a different accent, Janartha speaks in his local dialect with the Pahari voters. What is making his journey tough are two former Congress legislators - Harbhajan Singh Bhajji and Adrash Kumar Sood - who reportedly were backing an Independent candidate, until he withdrew at the instance of union minister for commerce Anand Sharma. Observers say there is strong possibility of undercutting in the Congress vote bank.
The saffron edge
BJP candidate Suresh Bhardwaj, who has represented the seat twice (1990 and 2007), is the party's face in the state capital. The saffron party candidate banks heavily on its cadres. BJP has a strong following among the town's business community. One can see BJP flags hanging outside shops, with some of the traders even displaying cutouts of chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Known for his simplicity and socialising, Bhardwaj wears a simple kurta-pyjama during campaigning. He lists the developmental works done during the last five years as he seeks votes. "Maine hamesha se aap sab logon ke sukh aur dukh mein saath diya hai. Ab aapki baari hai mera saath dene ka. (I have stood by you people in the thick and thin. Now it's your turn to stand by me)," is how Bhardwaj strikes a chord with the voters. Bhardwaj blames the CPM for stalling the developmental works in the town. "CPM is hampering the development works. Not a single penny has been used under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)," alleges Bhardwaj.
What is adding to the discomfiture of the BJP candidate is the presence of Tarsem Bharti, a social worker, who rebelled and is contesting as an Independent. Former speaker Radha Raman Shastri, who left the BJP a year ago, is now contesting on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket. Other two candidates are: Sita Ram of Bahujan Samaj Party and Surinder Kumar of Himachal Swabhiman Party.
The Left factor
CPM candidate, deputy mayor Tikender Panwar, whose appearance resembles the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, prefers to ride his bicycle or travels in his friend's Maruti Alto car. Tikender keeps his campaign low profile. Left leader's campaign is more focused on man to man rather than door to door. Tikender doesn't hesitate to knock at the doors of the voters early morning and keeps canvassing till late night.
"Municipal corporation belongs to us and electing a CPM MLA will boost the development of the town. You should vote for an alternative to the Congress and the BJP," says Panwar, who promises to implement the city development plan. "So far, we have not been able to implement not even 10% of city development plan, which envisages better parking facilities and better infrastructure, more elevators and houses for destitute." CPM presence began to grow in the late eighties, mainly because the left-oriented organisation strengthened its cadres in Himachal Pradesh University, colleges and among hotel workers.
Left leader Rakesh Singha created history in 1993 by clinching the Shimla seat with a slender margin of 159 votes.
Since then, the CPM could never wrest the seat again but the party has been a securing major chunk of votes. In 2007, the incumbent mayor Sanjay Chauhan finished second, securing 9,885 votes. The Left created history earlier this year in the Shimla municipal corporation election by winning the mayoral and deputy mayoral seats in the first ever direct civic body elections, which has definitely come as a morale booster for the communists, who have strong following in Summer Hill area comprising Annandale, Kaithu and Tutti Kandi wards.
TOTAL VOTES: 51,929
Last assembly election
winner: Suresh Bhardwaj
Victory margin: 2,588
Deciding issues: Monkey menace, poor condition of roads and sanitation; parking woes, water problem
X-factor: Communist cadres have grown since 1990. The morale of the Left workers is already high this time after clinching the posts of mayor and deputy mayor earlier this year.