The electoral gameplan and the selection of candidates made by major political parties in Kangra, Chamba and Una suggest that the caste factor has received undue importance overriding other issues confronting the region.
The top leadership of the Congress and BJP carry out caste analysis in every assembly constituency before finalising the candidate. Treading on caste lines, the parties devise strategy to win over two communities - Gaddis and Other Backward Classes (OBC) - to neutralise the effect of the rival candidate.
The caste politics plays a pivotal role in determining which party will form government and when it comes to the politics in Kangra and Chamba, OBCs and Gaddis become the decisive forces.
Gaddis have major vote share in Kangra and Chamba districts. According to Gaddi leader Manoj Kumar, in Kangra district the total population of Gaddis is around 3 lakh. He, however, said as the lower caste people from the Gaddi community have been given reservation in the Scheduled Caste (SC) category, Gaddis have been deprived of their due share in the representation given to the leaders of the community in the party.
"Though we make for around 7% of the total population, in government records the population of Gaddis is shown very low. Gaddi is not a caste; it's a community, which includes people from upper and lower castes," said Kumar, adding that it is the only community that has been given reservation under two categories.
"This unjustified division of the community is the only reason that why Gaddis were never given a proper representation by the political parties," said Kumar.
Giving the details of population of this tribal community, Kumar said Gaddis have presence in the belt adjacent to the Dhauladhar ranges.
"Our community has vote share of around 30% in Baijnath constituency, 28% in Palampur, 30% in Dharamsala and around 10% in Shahpur," said Kumar, adding that a swing in the votes of Gaddi community in these four constituencies will decide the fate of a candidate.
He said though the community was never considered vote bank of the BJP, the party, realising the importance of Gaddis, gave them representation in the cabinet and boards, which resulted in the shifting of the community votes from the Congress to BJP.
"It is very unfortunate that the Congress has never given representation to Gaddi leaders in Kangra when it came to the selection of candidates," said Kumar.
Sitting MLA from Dharamsala, Kishan Kapoor and Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) nominee from Palampur, Dulo Ram are the two prominent gaddi candidates in poll fray in Kangra district.
Gaddis are a dominant force in Chamba, which is ST reserved constituency, and where 70% of the total population is of Gaddis. In Bhatiyat assembly segment, their population is around 40%. A significant population of Gaddis also reside in Chamba, Dalhousie and Churah constituency. As the Gaddi population has increased in Chamba constituency, the BJP fielded Gaddi leader BK Chauhan to encash on the votes of the community.
OBC vote bank
The other backward classes (OBC) population in Kangra district is around 30%. Therefore, no political party can afford to ignore them. Out of the 15 assembly constituencies in the district, OBCs are a dominating factor in at least eight segments.
In Dharamsala, the total population of OBCs is over 22,000 (34.83% of the total population), while in Kangra their population is around 55,000 (76.54% of the total population).
Besides, the OBC population in Nagrota is around 44,000, 36,000 in Jawalamukhi, 45,000 collectively in Fatehpur and Jawali and 21,242 in Sulah. The OBCs have a sizeable vote bank in other constituencies too.
Political observers are of the view the Congress and BJP cannot ignore these equations and the strategy for the allocation of ticket depends upon the caste equation.
"We know Kangra is always at the centrestage when it comes to the formation of government and in Kangra it is the OBCs who will decided that which party gets maximum seats," said a political observer.
A quick analysis of the OBCs' dominance in Kangra politics shows that Kangra has given the state cabinet ministers like Chaudhary Chandar Kumar (Congress), Ramesh Dhawala (BJP), Chaudhary Vidya Sagar (BJP) and Sarveen Chaudhary (BJP). Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar had served as the speaker of the state assembly.
In ensuing election too, at least eight OBC leaders are in the fray, which include cabinet ministers Ramesh Dhawala and Sarveen Chaudhary, MLAs Neeraj Bharti and Sanjay Chaudhary and former MLA Chaudhary Surender Kaku.
Congress rebel Arun Mehra and BJP candidate Mangal Chaudhary are also in the fray from Kangra, while BJP rebel Pawan Kajal has entered the poll contest from Kangra constituency.