Narendra Modi-led campaign powered BJP comeback in Himachal
Scale of victory reflects groundswell of support for PM’s reforms; Modi, who was BJP affairs in-charge in HP two decades ago, knows its political pulse.india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 10:13 IST
A robust election campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that effectively tapped into the undercurrent of anti-incumbency against the Congress worked for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Himachal Pradesh.
While the party was expected to beat the faction-ridden Congress in the state where governments have traditionally changed every five years, the scale of its victory – 44 out of 68 assembly seats – reflects a groundswell of support. It is also a huge morale booster ahead of the assembly elections in key states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka, next year.
The resounding triumph has come in the face of a high-decibel campaign run by the Congress against the goods and services tax (GST), derisively dubbed as ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ by then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (now president), and demonetisation. Besides giving a push to Modi’s economic reforms agenda, it also means the party has wrested another state from the Congress, further expanding its political footprint.
Modi, who is ably backed by BJP president Amit Shah’s micro-management skills, is being credited for the party’s comeback in the hill state. A master of rhetoric, Modi, who was party affairs in-charge here about two decades ago, knows the political pulse of the state. He targeted chief minister Virbhadra Singh on corruption and misgovernance, using innuendo and sarcasm.
Modi addressed half-a-dozen well-attended rallies, playing on his ‘connect” with the people. However, the strike rate in assembly segments where his rallies were organised may not please the PM as the party candidates failed to win their seats in half of them.
All guns blazing
The BJP also drafted most of its big guns from the start. Campaign rallies were addressed by Shah, central leaders Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Smriti Irani, besides chief ministers Yogi Adityanath and Trivendra Rawat.
The blitzkrieg overshadowed the Congress, capturing the imagination of change-hungry voters in the state. The ruling party’s campaign was led by the six-time chief minister – the oldest candidate in the fray – with most of his ministerial colleagues and other state leaders, including Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, remaining confined to their constituencies.
Unlike the BJP, the Congress central leaders played the supporting cast and left the chief minister on his own. While Rahul Gandhi held only three rallies towards the closing stages of the campaign, several others did not go beyond Shimla. Virbhadra did put up a spirited fight, but it was not enough to counter its rival’s formidable election machinery.
The BJP was also quick on its feet, changing strategy. The party leadership had decided not to name the CM candidate as there were multiple aspirants. It did not want a repeat of 2012 when infighting between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, a veteran leader, saw rebel candidates in 18 constituencies and derailed the campaign. When Virbhadra, who was named by the Congress as its CM face, repeatedly raked up its failure to announce an alternative face, the party changed tack, declaring Dhumal as the pick.
However, that strategy did not work, as Dhumal lost from Sujanpur to his one-time lieutenant-turned-rival Rajinder Rana even though the party scored a spectacular win. Earlier, Shah had pressed into service his troubleshooters such as Thawar Chand Gehlot, Mangal Pandey and JP Nadda to placate the rebels and prompt action was taken against those who did not fall in line.