Shimla: More than 55 lakh voters will vote the 68 assembly segments in Himachal Pradesh today. At the nub of the fight is whether the BJP succumbs to the Himalayan state’s “rivaaj”, or tradition, of changing the government. Results will be out on December 8.
The ruling BJP, which is selling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face along with Jairam Thakur, has been insisting that “continuity” is key to development. Its chief argument is that the “double engine” — same party’s governments in state and at the Centre — will ensure work isn’t hindered. It cites another Himalayan state, Uttarakhand, as an example of defeating the change-every-election trend.
The Congress, which says the election is about local issues, wishes the voters go by the four-decade tradition of voting out the incumbent. Beset with a leadership crisis ever since the death of veteran Virbhadra Singh, the party says it’ll sail back to power as its seat-wise ticket allocation has been “much better than before”. Virbhadhra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is the state unit chief; son Vikramaditya Singh is among candidates.
In the BJP, which has 21 rebels, the contest is a prestige issue for its national chief JP Nadda too. He was once a minister in the state under Prem Kumar Dhumal. Mr Dhumal is among those not contesting — he insists he’s retired on his own, though the “denial of ticket” to him and others has made headlines, all the more because many leaders cried on stage.
The BJP got Union ministers and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, seen as an aggressive face of its Hindutva ideology, to campaign in Himachal. For the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held rallies while her brother Rahul Gandhi preferred to not leave his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ for the poll campaign. Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress’s first non-Gandhi chief in 24 years, campaigned too.
While the Congress has run a low-key campaign in PM Modi’s stronghold Gujarat, which votes next month, it will need to win Himachal to reverse its downslide and fire up its cadres. The party has failed to win, or make a significant impact, in nine states in about two years.
Early this year the Congress lost power in Himachal’s neigbouring state Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP is contesting Himachal but its concentration, evidently, was on Gujarat.
Congress’s promise of restoring the pre-2004 Old Pension Scheme became a major issue as the state has over 2 lakh government employees. The BJP has promised implementation of Uniform Civil Code and 8 lakh jobs in the state. On pension, it says that “if anyone would restore the old scheme, it will be the BJP”.
These elections come ahead of nine state elections due next year, including the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — the only states where the Congress has chief ministers — and Madhya Pradesh.
Besides Chief Minister Jairam Thakur from Seraj, significant candidates include minister Suresh Bhardwaj from Kasumpti, Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri from Haroli, Vikramaditya Singh from Shimla Rural, and Congress campaign committee chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.
For the voting from 8 am to 5 pm, the Election Commission has set up 7,884 polling stations, including three in far-flung areas. Its highest booth is in Tashigang in Kaza in Lahaul-Spiti district, at a height of 15,256 feet, for 52 voters.