Himachal Pradesh's four Lok Sabha seats may appear insignificant in shaping the country's next government, but the poll outcome is crucial, at least for the political veterans of the state, including chief minister Virbhadra Singh, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and former union minister Shanta Kumar.
The tiny hill state had never witnessed such a high-decibel campaign as it saw this time, with the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi holding four rallies, and All-India Congress Committee vice-president Rahul Gandhi matching him. AICC president Sonia Gandhi too held a rally in Kullu. With Bollywood stars taking to the roads, glitz and glamour were a part of the Congress and BJP's campaigns.
These elections are crucial for the political future of Virbhadra Singh and the Dhumals, including Prem Kumar Dhumal and his son Anurag Thakur, the BJP's Hamirpur candidate, who accused each other of pursuing “political vendetta” and traded charges throughout campaigning for their parties' candidates.
Spotlight on Virbhadra
The poll outcome will reflect on the popularity of Virbhadra Singh, who is inarguably the lone mass leader in the Congress. Bickering in the Congress came to the fore at the time of ticket allotment, when in spite of opposition from the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the party leadership approved the candidature of the leaders backed by Virbhadra.
It became apparent that the responsibility to help party candidates sail through the polls in spite of the 'Modi wave' was being shouldered by Virbhadra, who, known for his tireless campaigning, crisscrossed the Kangra, Shimla, Mandi and Hamirpur constituencies.
His wife Pratibha was the 'obvious' choice from Mandi, while for Shimla, Virbhadra selected a political greenhorn, first-time Congress legislator from Rohru Mohan Lal Brakta. Congress' senior leader and Virbhadra's supporter Chander Kumar entered the Lok Sabha arena for the third time in Kangra, and in Hamirpur former BJP rebel Rajinder Rana was given ticket.
With the exit poll surveys not sounding good for the Congress, an electoral reverse could increase
Virbhadra's troubles, as he is facing serious allegations of corruption, and dissidence has begun to raise its head. Ghumarwein legislator Rajesh Dharamani has already quit as the chief parliamentary secretary, while union commerce minister Anand Sharma has been sending feelers indicating his interest in state politics.
In another scenario, if the Congress manages to trounce the BJP, it will help Virbhadra consolidate his position in the party. The outcome of the polls in Mandi, from where his wife is contesting, and Shimla, where Virbhadra wields influence, is more crucial for him, as a negative result will give his detractors a chance to hit out at him.
Dhumal depending on Anurag
The poll results could also decide Dhumal's future in the party. The leader, who is considered close to Modi, is depending on his son's victory to maintain his status in the BJP. If Anurag is able to win from Hamirpur again, Dhumal will continue to have his say in the party, and if Anurag loses, Dhumal is sure to be challenged by his detractors.
In Kangra, BJP veteran Shanta Kumar is contesting his last elections. His victory would add to his stature and boost his supporters, who have been lying low after the party's debacle in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha polls.