- India Matters
- Nov 03 2017
On November 9, the hilly State of Himachal Pradesh is going to vote for a new Assembly whose term is ending on January 7 next year.
The electoral fight is primarily between two national parties -- the Congress that rules the State and the BJP that is in power at the Centre. Since 1990, the State has elected the two parties alternatively. And since 1993, the chair of the chief minister had been occupied by incumbent Chief Minister Veerbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP.
While Singh is in fray for the fifth time, having first become the chief minister on April 8, 1983, Dhumal, a two-time chief minister, has been named by the BJP as its chief ministerial candidate.
Singh holds the record of the longest serving chief minister after the first chief minister of the State Yashwant Singh Parmar who was in power for 6660 days.
Results of the election, scheduled to be announced on December 18, are crucial for the national politics.
While the prestige and credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is again at stake, for the Congress it is important because a repeat victory in the tiny State, that sends four MPs to the Lok Sabha, would be credited not only to the account of the incumbent chief minister but also to party vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is slated to become the party chief in next few weeks.
How important is a victory in Himachal for the ruling party at the Centre can be understood from the fact that BJP President Amit Shah had to convince the Prime Minister hard to name Dhumal as the party’s chief ministerial candidate exactly nine days before the polling. Shah announced Dhumal as the party’s chief ministerial face at a public rally in Rajgarh in the Solan district on October 31.
Modi was reluctant to name the two times chief minister of the State again. The equation between the Prime Minister and Dhumal has particularly not been very cordial. Modi did not make Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur, a three times Lok Sabha MP from Hamirput, a minister in his cabinet. It is a common knowledge that Dhumal was very keen to promote his son.
The Prime Minister is said to be very keen to make Union Health Minister J P Nadda sit on the chief ministerial chair. But he had to yield to the persuasion of the BJP chief who informed him that the party surveys and reports from country’s intelligence agencies say that the Congress may steal the show in absence of a BJP’s chief ministerial face.
The BJP, since the victory at the general elections in 2014, has been depending upon the Prime Minister’s image and Shah’s electoral management to win State elections. Only in the case of Delhi and Bihar, the Modi-Shah combine had not succeeded but in the rest of Assembly elections, including in the country’s biggest State Uttar Pradesh, the party had won convincingly on the strength of the duo.
Now that there seems to be some dent in the Teflon image of the Prime Minister and sensing a possible defeat in Himachal or even in Gujarat, where the polling is going to take place on December 9, the Modi-Shah combine has decided to project 73-year-old Dhumal to lead the charge in the electoral battle.
The Prime Minister has been campaigning relentlessly in the State to woo the electorate and has been in Himachal half a dozen times in the last two months, inaugurating projects and laying foundations of the other.
The BJP chief is also campaigning aggressively, declaring the incumbent chief minister and the Congress as corrupt. From all counts, a victory in Himachal seems to be a life and death issue for the Modi-Shah combine as a defeat here would embolden party dissidents and there would be a serious question mark on the leadership.
On the other hand, a victory is equally important for Veerbhadra Singh who had even threatened the Congress top leadership to rename him as the chief ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi, who is said to be very keen to project a younger face at the election, had to eat a humble pie in the face of a threat of a rebellion from the four-times chief minister.
Apart from the anti-incumbency, Veerbhadra Singh is also facing charges of corruption. A CBI probe in a case of disproportionate assets has been going on for last few years, denting his public image and giving enough ammunition to the BJP to take potshots at him.
Coming from a royal background, Singh has been trying to establish his only son, Vikramaditya Singh, in State politics to don the family mantle. Vikramaditya is contesting from his father’s constituency of Shimla (Rural). He is at present the president of the State Indian Youth Congress -- the youth wing of the Congress.
The contest for the 68-member legislative assembly seems to be close, though the BJP under normal circumstances would have been the natural beneficiary of the anti-incumbency of five years of the Congress rule. The choice for the 50-lakh strong electorate is not so easy, as the voter has to choose between the two national parties whose performance record they know quite well.
On the one hand, Veerbhadra Singh is fighting the last electoral battle of his life, thus giving his best at the contest. On the other hand, Dhumal’s prestige along with that of the Prime Minister is at stake because a defeat may mark the beginning of the decline of Modi’s popularity.
A nail-biting finish cannot be entirely ruled out when the results are announced next month.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).