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Despite some disquiet, the saffron party has the edge in the Himachal assembly polls

On the ground, the anti-incumbency factor seems to be strong as always. Still, if the results are as close as they appear and the two big parties fail to cross the magic digit, the role of the Left and independents may prove to be crucial for government formation.

analysis Updated: Nov 08, 2017 11:46 IST
Himachal assembly elections,Congress,BJP
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CM Virbhdra Singh at an election rally in Nagrota Bagwan, near Dharamsala, November 6(Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times)

This time round, the voters are keeping their cards close to the chest. When votes are counted for the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections on December 18, the contest may prove to be a close one. The factors influencing the outcome of the polls to be held on Thursday, November 9, include a mix of local issues such as crime and national ones such as the imposition of GST.

Although the infusion of prominent leaders into the campaign such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party chief Amit Shah and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath betrayed a hint of nervousness on the part of the BJP, the saffron party may still have an edge owing to the strong anti-incumbency sentiment. For the first time, the electorate, particularly the state’s business community, was seen to be perturbed over the Centre’s policies such as the goods and services tax (GST). This may be the reason the BJP leadership was compelled to nominate Prem Kumar Dhumal as the chief ministerial face late into election campaigning.

Contrary to the BJP, which relied on the big guns to drive home the party’s message, Virbhadra Singh was the lone ranger as the local stalwart commanding the Congress with unparalleled energy and influence. Of course, he was also supported, to an extent, by Rahul Gandhi and Randeep Singh Surjewala.

Both the BJP and the Congress were gripped by intra-party factionalism that has brightened the prospects of independents in at least four assembly constituencies. The arbitrary manner in which tickets were distributed and the parachute landing of certain candidates in both the leading parties have led to some lethargy at the organisational level and opened up the possibility of cross-voting in certain other constituencies. The intra-party feud was more apparent in the Congress where the organisational head, Thakur Sukhwinder Singh, was perceived to be sidelined and supporters of GS Bali clamoured for his candidature as chief-ministerial candidate in front of party vice president Rahul Gandhi. The Left is not a spent force in the state, yet. The rising influence of CPM candidates in seats such as Theog, Shimla, Ani and Kasumpati is likely to influence the final outcome.

While the issues of corruption and crime are the principle grouses against the incumbent Congress government, it has managed to communicate its achievements to voters in the areas of employment-generation, opening up of new educational and health institutions and development schemes.

Still, in the last few years the graph of crime, violence and corruption in the state has been steadily rising. The public anger over the murder of a forest guard in Karsog and Gudiya in Kotkhai and the consequent failure in rounding up the culprits has discredited the government significantly. The government’s tardy handling of such incidents cropped up consistently in the political speeches of both the BJP and the Left.

Demands such as lack of assured promotions and untimely release of dearness allowance have antagonised Himachal Pradesh’s large workforce of State employees (numbering about 2.4 lakh). However, the contractual and para-employees which number around 30,000 seem to be content with the government on account of reduction of time for regularisation of their services and greater hiring. Over the years, the employees have lost some of the leverage they previously enjoyed owing to the weakening of their organisations.

While the royal cult has its influence in constituencies such as Virbhadra Singh’s Rampur and Maheshwar Singh’s Kullu, the personality cult too is also at play since adversaries Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh were sought after by candidates to campaign in most constituencies.
Looking at the Congress’s poll promises , the party manifesto promises generation of 1.5 lakh more jobs, raising of unemployment allowance from Rs 1,000 to 1,500, social security allowances, minimum wages of Rs 350 and regularisation of para-teachers. The BJP has focused on promising a restoration of faith in governance, transparency in public life, a new Lokayukta, generation of new job opportunities and curbing the growth of the mafia.

On the ground, the anti-incumbency factor seems to be strong as always. Still, if the results are as close as they appear and the two big parties fail to cross the magic digit, the role of the Left and independents may prove to be crucial for government formation.

Harish Thakur is chairman, department of political science, HP University, Shimla

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 08, 2017 11:46 IST