With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showing a saffron surge in the Shimla district, the Congress is showing signs of losing ground in this apple heartland that has remained its traditional stronghold in the past.
In the just-concluded parliamentary polls, BJP candidate Virender Kashyap secured lead in six of the total eight assembly segments of Shimla. Congress had fielded MLA Mohan Lal Brakta, who represents Rohru in Vidhan Sabha.
The Congress strategists were quite sure that the electorate in this apple heartland would support the party but the result was quite disappointing for them. It was only Rohru that stood by the Congress by giving it a lead of over 13,000 votes but the BJP still managed to win the parliamentary seat by a margin of over 12,000 votes.
Theog assembly segment, which comprises apple-rich Kotgarh area, also got tilted in favour of BJP candidate Virender Kashyap. It was for the first time that the BJP secured a lead from this segment. Earlier, Theog itself comprised a assembly segment but after the delimitation, some parts of Kumarsain also merged with Theog.
In the past, this apple heartland has always supported the Congress and also produced big leaders like chief minister Virbhadra Singh, former chief minister Ram Lal Thakur and former PWD minister Jai Bihari Lal Khachi. The Congress predominance has been growing in this area since the 1980s. In 1982, of the total eight seats in Shimla, the Congress secured six while the BJP two only and in 1985 all eight segments were secured by the Congress.
However this time around, but for Rohru and Rampur assembly segments---the bastion of Virbhadra Singh, all other segments gave lead to the BJP.
The people of Kotgarh, who rarely got involved in active politics, were not happy with the performance of the government this time around. They had a long list of demands and pending works.
In Jubbal and Kotkhai, the bad condition of Theog-Hatkoti-Rohru road cost dear to the Congress party.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's home segment Rampur gave a lead of over 7,000 votes to Pratibha Singh, Congress nominee from Mandi Lok Sabha segment, even as Pratibha had secured a lead of over 15,000 from this segment in the bye-election in Mandi.
In Shimla district, Theog, Jubbal and Kotkhai and Chopal gave a total lead of over 10,000 votes to the BJP candidate. In 2012 assembly elections, the Congress had won all seats in the apple-growing areas of the district with good margins.
In the Lok Sabha elections this time, Shimla district voted in favour of BJP whereas in the past, the Congress used to get lead from the district, especially from the apple heartland.
In the past, the apple belt had turned against BJP after the apple agitation in 1990 against the then Shanta Kumar government. To suppress the agitation, the Shanta government had ordered firing in Kotgarh, wherein three farmers were killed while hundreds were put behind the bars. In 1993, BJP did not return to the power and lost all seats in the district.
CONGRESS' UNFULFILLED PROMISE
The Congress had promised to hike import duty on apple by three times but could not fulfill it. On the other hand, BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi had promised to promote horticulture, especially apple cultivation, and agriculture in the hill state.