The hill state of Himachal Pradesh witnessed an all time high of more than 74 per cent in the single phase polling on Thursday. It is indicative of either a strong anti- incumbency against chief minister Virbhadra Singh or that the 83-year-old Congress war horse is not giving up electoral politics without putting up a stiff last fight.
Having been the chief minister for no less than six terms, he appears to have managed the campaign well despite the Congress organisation being in disarray as evidenced in other parts of the country.
Having been nominated as the Congress chief minister in case the party won the assembly elections, BJP chief Amit Shah wasted no time in zeroing in on two time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal as the lotus party’s numero uno in HP.
Dhumal’s popularity in the state is not in doubt. He is 73-years-old even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diktat is that a politician should hang up his boots on attaining the age of 75. Will that apply to Dhumal or will he be the exception in case the Lotus party regains power in Shimla.
Politicians in HP will have to be patient and wait for nearly seven weeks for the counting of votes on December 18 after the two phase elections in Gujarat on December 9 and 14.
Five years back in the 2012 assembly elections, the Congress had won 36 seats and the BJP 26 with five independents and a lone seat going to the Himachal Lokhit party.
It is widely believed the poll outcome in Kangra and Mandi regions will decide which party comes to power in HP. Being the largest district with 15 assembly seats, the Congress is putting up a tough fight amid the rebellion in the BJP.
In the last assembly elections the Congress had won ten of the 15 seats in Kangra. Prior to that the BJP had won nine seats from this region and formed the government. Kangra has been the borough of BJP veteran Shanta Kumar.
There are enough BJP rebels in the fray though some of them were summoned to the national capital by the BJP brass to try and pacify them.
The Congress appears to have an edge in Kangra. At the same time it is in a tough spot in Mandi having ten assembly segments. This district is a stronghold of former Congress leader Sukh Ram who along with his son Anil Sharma, who was a member of the Virbhadra Singh cabinet, has joined the BJP.
What has queered the pitch for the Congress is the presence of rebel candidates. In HP politics the two party system of the Congress and BJP has prevailed. The people have traditionally alternated between the Lotus party and the Congress.
Attempts at forming a Third Front failed to meet the expectations of the people. The Left parties — CPI and CPI (M) — enjoy a base in a few pockets in HP but have failed to make their mark in state politics.
A combination of these factors has compelled the Aam Aadmi party to steer clear of contesting assembly elections in HP. It is, however, going to be in the fray in the assembly elections in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Miniter Narendra Modi.
Congress is on the backfoot because of the disproportionate assets case against Virbhadra Singh. Then, the Gudiya rape and murder case is also likely to affect the Congress adversely. The sentiments of women and young voters are against the Congress in the wake of the botched up investigation by the police and the High Court directing the Central Bureau of Investigation to take up the case. For continuity of dynastic rule in HP, Virbhadra Singh has given up his rural seat in Shima to his son Vikramaditya Singh who is facing a tough challenge. On the other hand Hamirpur is the stronghold of Dhumal. His son Anurag Thakur is a third time MP from this district.
The BJP should cruise to a comfortable win in this district. What cannot be lost sight of is that no government has succeeded in retaining power for two consecutive terms in HP. Overall, the BJP appears headed in regaining power in the hill state even as the polls have predicted a runaway victory for the saffron brigade.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)