Himachal polls-2017: It’s Modi versus Modi
BJP claims PM will boost party to victory, while Congress says disenchantment with him over DeMo, GST will work for it.HimachalPradeshElection2017 Updated: Nov 09, 2017 10:05 IST
“He is trying to bring about development,” Neelam Thakur, a second-year BA student from Darlaghat in Arki, springs to life the moment you ask if Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made any difference in the state. “He cares a lot, especially for women,” her voice trails off as she struggles to recall something about smoke-free cooking and LPG that the PM had spoken of at his rally in Bilaspur.
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the lone warrior for the Congress in the state, makes it clear at rally after rally that he is pitted against none other than the PM. “Woh mera wajood mitana chahte hain, (He wants to finish my very existence),” he says, pointing to Modi’s “unbecoming interest” in the state elections.
While the BJP claims Modi will be a major reason for its victory — party state in-charge Satinder Singh Satti has gone on record to claim that the PM would bring about a 3% vote swing on 50 seats — the Congress claims it will win because of growing disenchantment with Modi due to demonetisation, goods and services tax (GST), and saffronisation. “Traditionally, traders and intellectuals have voted for the BJP, but this time they will add to the kitty of the committed Congress voters,” says Rajinder Thakur, the prime mover for the Congress in Arki.
Political observers say both the parties are flogging the Modi factor as neither has any solution to local issues such as the animal-versus-man conflict, environmental degradation, and increasing parking problem in towns.
This is evident as Congress loyalists harp on the damage caused by notebandi. “Labourers at my farm could not even draw money from their Jan Dhan accounts,” says Rajiv Guleria, a Congress loyalist farmer from Fatehpur in Kangra.
YOUTH FOR MODI
Ramesh Kumar Chauhan, a political science professor at Himachal Pradesh University, however, points out that neither GST nor demonetisation resonate with 90% of the Himachal voters living in villages.
“Traders are not a big majority in the state,” says Chauhan.
With a 43% vote share, the youth certainly are. Political observers claim they are disgruntled with the ruling party. “Students are angry because the fee was raised several times without any improvement in the quality of education,” says Chauhan.
Gaurav Gupta, the 25-year-old IT in-charge of the BJP at Arki, says the youth see hope in Modi. With an eye on the young voters, BJP started its campaign with national president Amit Shah’s Yuva Hunkar Rally in Dharamshala, the epicentre of Kangra district, which has the highest number of assembly constituencies in the state, on September 22.
Prajwal Busta, the 21-year-old chairperson of block panchayat samiti, Jubbal Kotkhai, Shimla, the youngest person elected to this post in the country, says Modi is also popular with women who believe he is trying to encourage them in the political domain. The BJP has fielded six women candidates against three by the Congress.
Modi’s words dictate the political discourse on the ground. The PM’s charge that Virbhadra was too preoccupied with his legal troubles to ensure development is echoed by his partymen across the state, who point to the bad state of roads. Kishan Chand Sharma, a BJP volunteer, claims though the Centre had sanctioned 71 national highways for the state, work on most of them is pending due to the state’s failure to submit project reports.
Congress leaders, on the other hand, continue to claim that the announcement of Prem Kumar Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate is the BJP’s admission of the weak Modi factor in the state.
Chauhan, however, sees it as a master stroke that “stopped the Congress from calling the BJP a bina dulhe ki baraat besides cementing the fissures in the party”.
Meanwhile, with hours left for polling, the leaders are poring over voter lists. At Kuniar, which falls in Virbhadra’s constituency, Rajinder Thakur has decided to appoint three polling agents per booth. “Everyone must vote,” he orders a group of men.
That’s another message common to both the parties.
First Published: Nov 09, 2017 10:03 IST