About 45 lakh voters in Himachal Pradesh will give their verdict on Sunday on whether the ruling BJP got it right by making corruption its poll plank or whether the opposition Congress made the correct call by focusing on local issues, including lapses in governance.
Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, 68, and his bitter rival and former chief minister, Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh, 78, are engaged in the most crucial fight of their lives.
For Singh, who was given charge of the state Congress unit three months before the elections, this is the last battle.
The old warrior has been entrusted the responsibility of bringing the party back to power.
Dhumal, who has managed to sideline all his detractors within the BJP, faces an arduous task of winning a second consecutive term. This feat has been achieved only once in the state’s history — by Singh in 1985.
In the run-up to the elections, the BJP tried to corner Singh with allegations of corruption against him. But such a personalised campaign is unlikely to have any significant impact in a state where the core election issues are lack of development, rising unemployment, price-rise and local-level corruption.
Singh hit back at the Dhumal government, charging it with giving huge chunks of prime land to outsiders at throwaway prices — an allegation virtually endorsed by BJP leaders opposed to Dhumal.
While the BJP and the Congress are contesting all 68 seats, the BSP has emerged as the third largest party, with its candidates contesting 66 seats. However, going by the past performance when BSP received less than two percent votes, it may not upset the applecart in the state.
But, the surprise factor may be Himachal Lokhit Party floated by former state BJP chief and four time Lok Sabha MP, Maheshwar Singh, which is contesting in 36 seats. The rebel candidates of BJP and Congress, contesting in over half of the total seats, have a potential to turn the tide.
The results will be announced on December 20 alongside Gujarat’s results. Last time, in 2007, BJP won 41 versus Congress’ 23, while the independents and BSP won 3 and one seat, respectively.