Tucked away in the Himalayas, this land of sprawling tea gardens and apple orchards had always seen see-saw battles between the BJP and the Congress.
In keeping with tradition, the people had voted the Congress in the assembly elections over a year ago. But the grand old party seems to have lost the advantage in about a year.
Why? Women — who comprise almost 49% of the electorate — are far from happy. For, the UPA’s much touted game-changer scheme — Direct Benefit Transfer — has failed.
It has led to a sudden spike in cooking gas budgets of households. The people are paying through their noses to keep home fires burning.
People in the state are largely dependent on LPG, since wood is not available due to the high prices of coal and the ban on green felling. Now, despite having one of the highest Aadhar card covers — 98.96% — the state’s beneficiaries are being forced to buy LPG at the market price of Rs 1,350.
Women squarely blame the Congress for the increased fuel budget. Panicking, chief minister Virbhadra Singh has already shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and petroleum minister Veerappa Moily, asking them to put the scheme on hold and rectify the problems. But any relief on that front seems far off.
But the LPG issue apart, Singh’s popularity rating has taken a beating. His one-year rule has been far from satisfactory and now, allegations of corruption are flying thick and fast against the man who has been the Congress’ only mass leader in the state.
The state’s economy is in a topsy-turvy situation and the support expected from the UPA government has not materialised. For instance, the Centre has not yet released the relief funds nine months after rain-triggered landslides in Kinnaur and flooding in other parts.
The pre-independence rickety railway network has remained neglected during the last decade, which had hit tourism, one of the biggest money-spinners for the state. The UPA is getting flak for that too.
All this has given rise to much excitement in the BJP camp, which had the wind taken out of its sails after the electoral reverses in December 2012. In 2009, the party had won three of the state’s four Lok Sabha seats. Now it expects to do better since the anti-Congress mood has further boosted the Modi wave.
The seat that eluded the BJP last time was Mandi — currently occupied by the chief minister’s wife Pratibha Singh. But Pratibha, too, has got embroiled in corruption allegations and the BJP is doing its level best to fan the flames.
But the BJP has not been able to find a strong candidate who can take her on — and win.
The Congress is doing its best to foil the BJP’s plans — laying special focus on the three tribal constituencies. Kinnaur, Bharmour and Lahual-Spiti, which comprise the Mandi parliamentary seat.
Now, the Congress, too, is playing the BJP’s game, levelling corruption allegations against Anurag Thakur, son of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Anurag represents the BJP stronghold of Hamirpur, which had eluded the Congress for the last 16 years.
After coming to power in the state, the Congress had unleashed a series of enquiries against the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, headed by Thakur. Dhumal has been accused of misusing his official position to provide undue benefits to the association.
Corruption wars apart, caste has its place in this election too.
Riding on the Modi wave, BJP veteran and former union minister Shanta Kumar, who had earlier promised to stay away from electoral politics, has decided to enter the fray from Kangra — where caste plays a dominant role. Kangra has a large number of OBC voters.