Though the Congress strongman Virbhadra Singh’s return to the state politics had fuelled aggression amongst the party cadre, making a comeback will be an uphill task for the faction-ridden party as it struggles to settle intra-party squabble.
In an apparent move to build psychological pressure on its rivals, the BJP was quick to release the list 45 candidates at one go.
Even after two weeks of brainstorming, the Congress is struggling to come out with the first list. Delay in the announcement of tickets has further affected the Congress campaign. The ticket seekers, including sitting legislators, are still camping in Delhi, while BJP candidates have started their campaign in respective assembly segments.
The factions led by Pradesh Congress Committee president Virbhadra Singh and union minister for commerce Anand Sharma are making every bid to ensure that their supporters find a place in the list of candidates. The slugfest is a result of fight for supremacy, since both Anand Sharma and Virbhadra Singh know that the man having majority support will be the next chief minister.
Though Virbhadra Singh is seen as an aggressive campaigner, the rival camp has upped its ante against him ever since his return to the state politics. The rival camp is making every effort to keep Singh’s supporters out of the electoral arena. The infighting will surely have a bearing on the Congress prospects. The Congress last time lost 26 seats because of the rebels.
Apart from building up the party campaign, Singh has a tough job at hand in keeping a check on his long list of rivals, including Kaul Singh, who was unceremoniously ousted from the PCC post at the last moment. Besides former transport minister GS Bali, AICC secretary Asha Kumari and former Rajya Sabha member Viplove Thakur are also hostile to Virbhadra Singh.
Though corruption is the Congress’ main poll plank, the issue may boomerang as the BJP will launch a counter attack. The ruling party will go all out to launch a scathing attack on five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who had to quit the union cabinet after charges were framed by a local court against him and his wife Pratbiha Singh.
The Congress has been accusing the BJP leaders of amassing wealth by corrupt practices. It has continuously targeted chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his parliamentarian son Anurag Thakur along with other leaders, including irrigation and public health minister Ravinder Singh Ravi and former health minister Rajeev Bindal, on the issue.
Performance of Congress-led UPA government at the Centre will further make the party’s journey to power difficult. The BJP is all set to exploit the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail to stir anti-Centre emotions to gain electoral mileage, while the cap on subsidised domestic gas may also cost the party.
Privatisation of education mainly by opening of a large number of private universities in the state is another weapon that Congress has in its hand. The party has raised a finger at the intentions of the ruling party, alleging allotment of prime land to these institutions in a particular region.
Development will be another issue for the Congress as the party leaders have been continuously hitting out at the ruling party for dilapidated condition of roads, poor health services and deteriorating condition of the education sector. Besides the Congress has accused the BJP of labeling the centrally-sponsored schemes as its flagship programmes and misutilisation of funds allocated by the Centre.
The Congress’ strength is its dominance due to its pan-India presence and secular credentials. It has a leader in Virbhadra Singh who is a fighter to the core and has served the state five times as chief minister. The party enjoys mass base among the various sections of society.
The internal party conflict can cost the party dear as has happened in previous elections. The gravity of conflict forces high command to intervene every time there is a crisis. Instead of placating dissidents, the two groups in the party are locking horns over ticket distribution. The Congress has apparently failed to learn a lesson from the Punjab polls where it lost due to the rebel candidates.
The Congress faced a humiliating defeat in the 2007 assembly elections by winning only 23 seats. Though anti-incumbency played a role, rebel factor was responsible for the party’s undoing. The Congress lost 26 seats as the rebel candidates ate into the vote bank of the party. Shimla and Sirmaur districts were the areas where the party fared well. In Shimla, the Congress won five out of eight seats while in Sirmaur it bagged four out of five.