Why the Himachal polls are important
At stake is not only power in the hill state but also a chance to upend the state’s political tradition of voting out the incumbent.
Campaigning for assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh closed on Thursday, marking the end of a fierce, somewhat low-key, contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. At stake is not only power in the hill state but also a chance to upend the state’s political tradition of voting out the incumbent. Having done it once in Uttarakhand earlier this year, the BJP believes it can bank on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, its development agenda, and the lack of a popular Opposition face to secure a second consecutive term. The Congress believes it has run a grassroots campaign aimed at exploiting the anti-incumbency sentiment against the state government. If the BJP manages to break the pattern of parties swapping power in the state, it will be yet another sign that it is stamping its authority as the national hegemon.
Smaller states that wield less power in Parliament often get overshadowed by bigger provinces with more numerical heft (Himachal has four Lok Sabha seats compared to 26 in poll-bound Gujarat). Numbers matter in politics. But Himachal Pradesh holds another key message. It is from a mountain village in Himachal that the journey of India’s democracy began in October 1951. Till last week, it was home to the country’s first voter who unfailingly showed up to exercise his franchise for every election. It is where the world’s highest polling booth records 100% turnout, and the Election Commission sets up remote polling booths for a dozen voters. It is where a nascent poll panel sent ballot boxes on the back of donkeys, up mountain passes in the country’s maiden election. As that young nation understood and Himachal imbibed, no matter the outcome, casting the vote is what’s important.