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Congress’ abysmal show in HP: Anti-incumbency factionalism did them in

Congress’ counter campaign — “Modi ke bol jhumlo ke dhol” — failed to find favour with the masses with Virbhadra shuttling between Delhi and Shimla for cases, leaving governance in the state suffering.  

india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 11:21 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Virbhadra Singh’s bitter factional feud with state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu shattered the party’s united face.(HT File )

Factionalism, charges of corruption and an anti- incumbency wave against the chief minister Virbhadra Singh-led government led to the Congress’ abysmal show in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, leaving the party powerless even in its strongholds.

Congress performance was dismal in the state’s two biggest districts — Kangra and Mandi — and its strongholds Shimla and Kullu. The party was shrunk to just one seat in Sirmour district that comprises five assembly segments. The only saving grace was in Solan, where the party claimed three of total five seats, including chief minister Virbhadra Singh win over BJP's Rattan Singh Pal in Arki.

Starting its campaign a year before the elections gave BJP a head start, with the party bracing its cadres for the polls by bringing in state as well as national leaders.

Armed with its statewide “Mafia hatao, Pradesh bachao” campaign, the saffron fold launched a blitzkrieg on the party, focusing on the chief minister’s cases of corruption and disproportionate assets.

Congress’ counter campaign — “Modi ke bol jhumlo ke dhol” — failed to find favour with the masses with Virbhadra shuttling between Delhi and Shimla for cases, leaving governance in the state suffering.

Fives years into power, Congress could not put its act to together even when the elections were announced. Both the state party chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Virbhadra remained busy outscoring each other, intensifying the power struggle ahead of the elections.

Strengthened with a strong organisational background, Sukhu took on the might of Virbhadra, a six-time chief minister, who in turn pushed the high command to remove Sukhu.

The Congress also failed to promote the second line of leadership, who could replace Virbhadra, leaving it with no choice but to rely on its old war horse.

During the ticket allocation, Congress largely retained its sitting legislators and ministers, despite the anti-incumbency factor against them. Many sitting ministers and Congress big wigs eventually lost.

Congress Rajya Sabha member Viplove Thakur lost from Dehra to independent candidate Hoshiyar Singh. Excise minister Parkash Chaudhary could not retain his seat from Balh, while forest minister Bharmouri, too, lost from Bharmour. Transport minister GS Bali, who contested elections for the fifth time, lost his fort in Nagrota. Urban development minister Sudhir Sharma lost from Dharamshala to former industries minister Kishan Kapoor, while health minister Kaul Singh Thakur and his daughter Champa Thakur could also not taste victory.

Interestingly, except Vinay Kumar and Nand Lal from Rampur Bushahr, all chief parliamentary secretaries — Rohit Thakur, Rajesh Dharmani, Mansa Ram, Jagjivan Pal, Sohan Lal Thakur and Inder Dutt Lakhanpal — could not retain their seats.

The “botched-up” police investigation in the rape and murder of a young school girl in Kotkhai further aggravated problems for the Congress party. Both BJP and Communist Party of India-Marxist did not lose the chance to attack Congress, and promptly steered public anger against the government and police for shoddy probe into the case.

Outrage against the crime gathered momentum when photos of the rape victim got circulated and a Nepalese man accused of the rape died in custody at the Kotkhai police station, leading the angry public to torch the police station and three vehicles.

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 11:21 IST