For the Congress, the triumph in Himachal Pradesh could not have come at a more opportune time. More or less written off in Gujarat despite claims by its leaders of a ‘turn in the tide’, its win in the small hill will keep the score at one-all for both parties.
Though unspectacular, the victory – the Congress got 36 of the 68 seats was played for high stakes. A loss in Himachal would have been a massive setback and interpreted as a public verdict against the policies of the UPA government at the centre ahead of the assembly polls in crucial states next year.
“In fact, it is a mandate against the ineffectual governance, corruption and nepotism of the BJP government,” said Birender Singh, AICC general secretary in-charge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh, quick to turn the attention to the nature of the party’s win – a public pat for the “inclusive development model of the Congress.”
But if the Congress, gained from the anti-incumbency vote against the Prem Kumar Dhumal government and inner-party turbulence in the BJP and made significant inroads in its stronghold of Kangra in lower Himachal, its performance in upper areas was unremarkable.
What worked was the aggressive campaign led by Virbhadra and the overriding party strategy to raise the corruption issue against Dhumal and his sons. There was also the emotional pitch that this was the 78-year-old Congress leader’s last electoral outing.
Dhumal, whose party has defeated anti-incumbency in several states, had hoped to gain from camp rivalries in the Congress and the public anger against inflation. But lack of cohesion between its senior leaders, Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, led to bad judgment on ticket distribution manifested in the party’s poor showing in the politically-significant Kangra district. “We have no option other than accepting their verdict. I don’t want to say anything more at this stage,” said Kangra leader, Shanta Kumar.