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Himachal elections: Why BJP lost its citadel of Hamirpur

Since 1996, the Hamirpur parliamentary segment has seen eight elections of which the BJP won seven.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2017 00:06 IST
Naresh K Thakur
Senior BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal with his family members and relatives after losing election for the Sujanpur assembly seat, in Hamirpur on Monday.
Senior BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal with his family members and relatives after losing election for the Sujanpur assembly seat, in Hamirpur on Monday. (PTI Photo)

The BJP swept the elections in Himachal Pradesh by winning 44 of the 68 seats yet it tasted defeat on Hamirpur district, its citadel for two decades, where it managed to win two of the five seats.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has remained in a dominant position in Hamirpur since 1998 when it won all five assembly segments. In 2003, the party won three seats and the Congress two; in 2007, the BJP won four and the Congress one seat, while in 2012, the BJP won 3 and one seat each went to the Congress and an Independent.

Since 1996, the Hamirpur parliamentary segment has seen eight elections of which the BJP won seven. The last time a Congress candidate won from this parliamentary constituency was in 1996.

This time, the BJP’s vote share went up by about 1% from 47.9% in the 2012 assembly elections to 48.8%.

What led to the BJP losing three seats in Hamirpur was the improvement in the Congress vote share that shot up by over 5% as compared to the last election. In 2012, the Congress vote share was 38% that went up to 45% in 2017.

The Congress retained Barsar and won Nadaun and Sujanpur, while the BJP candidates returned victorious in Bhoranj and Hamirpur.

Voters felt ignored

Poll analysts say the BJP’s defeat in its fortress can be attributed to local factors.

“In Sujanpur, Congress candidate Rajinder Singh Rana was a strong candidate given his reputation of being a do-gooder,” said Lekh Raj, a supporter of Rana.

Secondly, BJP’s chief ministerial face Prem Kumar Dhumal lacked public connect like Rana has in Sujanpur. There is a perception among local residents that Dhumal ignored Sujanpur when he was chief minister for two terms.

Thirdly, Rana had been in the BJP before joining the Congress and knows the party’s strategies well. He was able to counter the BJP’s campaign effectively.

Sukhu’s resurgence

In Nadaun, state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu was pitted against BJP’s Vijay Agnihotri. Sukhu lost to Agnihotri in 2012 by more than 6,000 votes but this time the state Congress chief staged a comeback by winning the seat by 2,349 votes.

“Sukhu has grown in stature in five years. As a state Congress chief, he took on outgoing Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh, too,” said a political analyst, on the condition of anonymity.

“So people see him as a potential leader who may lead the Congress in the state one day,” he said, adding that anti-incumbency against Agnihotri also went in favour of Sukhu.

The Congress retained the Barsar seat in Hamirpur in a closely contest.

The grand old party’s candidate, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, who was a chief parliamentary secretary in the Virbhadra Singh-led government, defeated Baldev Sharma of the BJP by a narrow margin of 400 votes.

Lakhanpal has a personal rapport with people that Sharma does not enjoy since he has remained mired in controversies during his two terms as a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) .