Prem Kumar Dhumal, the soft-spoken BJP chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, is seeking a third term on the basis of his government’s development record.
Challenging his dream run is the Congress’ undeclared CM candidate, Virbhadra Singh, a five-time former chief minister. Dhumal and Singh, both Rajput leaders, face serious internal challenges. Both are battling allegations of corruption and favouritism, levelled by rivals within their parties as well as outside.
Dhumal led BJP to a big election victory in 2007, winning 41 seats in the 68-member assembly. The Congress won 23. The BSP won its first assembly seat in Himachal Pradesh in 2007.
The big question this time is: Can the BJP repeat its 2007 success, or will the Congress ride the anti-incumbency factor and return to power?
Some BJP leaders admit that the anti-incumbency factor could bring down the party’s tally. Dhumal’s rival, ex-CM Shanta Kumar is targeting Dhumal’s cabinet colleague Ravinder Ravi and former health minister Rajiv Bindal for corruption. A Dhumal supporter, Rakesh Pathania, was denied a ticket.
In the Congress, Virbhadra Singh — who was made president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee — has reportedly been promised a greater say on ticket distribution. His party rival, commerce minister Anand Sharma, is reportedly unhappy about this.
The BJP is counting on popular resentment against the UPA’s decision to raise diesel prices and rationing LPG cylinders to win votes. The Congress is also worried that these issues could cost it many votes.
The Congress accuses the BJP of taking credit for centrally sponsored schemes and rechristening them for its benefit. The BJP’s flagship scheme, Atal Swasthya Sewa, free ambulances services, has drawn a huge response from the public. But the Congress says it was the UPA that introduced the scheme in 2005 on a pilot basis. Dhumal accuses the UPA of discriminating against the state. It is highlighting the fact that only three km of rail lines have been added since Independence. The Congress blames the BJP for violating the Land Tenancy Act, which forbids non-Himachalis from purchasing farm land in the state. It says the BJP bent the law to help outsiders purchase land for commercial and private purposes.
The BJP will try to beat anti-incumbency and turn the diesel price hike and LPG cap to its advantage. How the Congress counters this will decide the result of the elections.