Prestige at stake in Himachal: BJP, Congress await result with bated breath

Updated on Dec 18, 2017 09:50 AM IST

A clutch of exit polls, which gave their seat projections on Thursday, have predicted a big win for the BJP, but leaders of both sides appeared somewhat cautious in their response.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh(HT File)
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh(HT File)
Hindustan Times, Shimla | By, Shimla

For such a small place, the significance the hill state of Himachal Pradesh has for the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is huge.

The two parties, which ran a high-voltage campaign to win over the 50 lakh-odd voters in a direct fight, are waiting with bated breath for the outcome of counting of votes on Monday to elect a new assembly. And, it has been a long wait, as the polling was held on November 9.

A clutch of exit polls, which gave their seat projections on Thursday, have predicted a big win for the BJP, but leaders of both sides appeared somewhat cautious in their response.

The stakes have never been higher for them. The BJP, gung ho after its impressive wins in several states, sees itself as the “natural claimant” this time with veteran leader Prem Kumar Dhumal as its CM face due to the revolving-door electoral history of the state in the past three decades. The party is looking to continue its victory march and expand its political footprint with just a little over a year to go for general elections.

Assembly election results 2017 LIVE: Counting begins, BJP confident of wins in Gujarat, Himachal

The wager for the ruling Congress is equally high, if not more. Pegged back by the pounding it has received in election after election since the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle with the exception of neighbouring Punjab, the party desperately needs to wrest back the initiative. A win here would serve as a big morale booster for the party rank and file across the country. Also, Rahul Gandhi, who took over as president of Congress on Saturday, would be hoping to start his innings with some positive news.

For chief minister Virbhadra Singh also, the stakes are high. Virbhadra and his family are facing cases pertaining to corruption and disproportionate assets, which are being investigated by Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department. His son, Vikramaditya, is also making his electoral debut from the Shimla rural constituency. Singh vacated the seat for him.

The two traditional rivals went all out in the “battle of prestige”, peppering each other with accusations and indulging in competitive populism like never before. Leading the BJP charge was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who targeted Congress and Virbhadra on corruption, deteriorating law and order and joblessness to try and make the most of the undercurrent of anti-incumbency against the ruling party in the state.

“Himachal Pradesh needs to be freed from five mafias – mining mafia, forest mafia, drug mafia, tender mafia and transfer mafia,” he said in his campaign rallies, calling the Congress government a “zamanati (out on bail) sarkar”. While the Congress central leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, attacked Modi on GST and demonetisation, Virbhadra, pivot of the party’s campaign, centred his campaign on development.

Besides banking on his ‘connect’, he played on the lack of a BJP CM face, making the BJP to alter its strategy and name Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate with just about a week to go for polling. Both parties have their traditional pockets of strong support, but the electors have shown a tendency to flip parties and punish non-performance. The state saw a record voter turnout of 75%.

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    A senior assistant editor, Navneet Sharma leads the Punjab bureau for Hindustan Times. He writes on politics, public affairs, civil services and the energy sector.

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