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‘Road to Shimla goes through Kangra’: Regional divide prevails over caste in HP

The hill state is divided into upper and lower Himachal. Electorates in old Himachal and newly merged parts of the state differ in their political and economic development, and social mobilisation.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2017 23:37 IST
Gaurav Bisht and Naresh K Thakur
Gaurav Bisht and Naresh K Thakur
Hindustan Times, Shimla/Dharamshala
Himachal Pradesh,Election in Himachal,Himachal Pradesh polls
A shopkeeper showing traditional Himachali caps in a shop at Lower Bazaar, in Shimla.(HT File Photo)

In Himachal Pradesh’s electoral politics, the regional divide is more dominant a factor than caste.

The state is divided into upper and lower Himachal. While the former comprises Shimla, Sirmaur, parts of Mandi, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti, Solan, Kinnaur and Chamba districts, the latter is made up of Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Una and the lower region of Mandi district.

Before the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966, Himachal Pradesh comprised four districts of Shimla, formerly Mahasu, Sirmaur, Chamba and Mandi. Kangra was then a district in Punjab.

After the merger, the divide in Himachal was evident. Parts of old Himachal and the newly merged areas differ in their political and economic development, and social mobilisation.

Political leanings

Old Himachal has traditionally been a Congress bastion. Three of the five chief ministers so far — Yashwant Singh Parmar, Thakur Ram Lal and Virbhadra Singh — belong to this area.

It was only in 1998 when Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP-Himachal Vikas Congress coalition came to power that the saffron party found support in the belt. In 1996, BJP tasted defeat because of using force to quell an apple farmers’ agitation. Three farmers were killed in police firing in Kotgarh and the BJP lost power.

Why Kangra counts

Kangra gave Himachal its first non-Congress chief minister when the Janata Party formed the government under the leadership of Shanta Kumar in 1977. The BJP has come a long way since it set up its first unit in Kangra. Dhumal, who served as the BJP government’s CM from 1998-2003 and 2007-12, also comes from lower Himachal’s Hamirpur.

It is a popular saying in Himachal politics that the road to Shimla goes through Kangra. Population-wise, it is the largest district and sends 15 legislators to the House. With one-fourth of the total House strength, the party that wins Kangra, forms the government.

Divide bid backfires

To break Kangra’s monopoly, the BJP proposed to divide Kangra into three districts but the decision backfired and anguish among locals was seen in 2003 when the Congress won 10 seats .

In 2012, the BJP again raked up Kangra’s division into smaller districts but faced opposition.

Kangra’s decision will only be clear on December 18, the day that counts.

First Published: Oct 14, 2017 23:19 IST