Keeping the decades-long anti-establishment convention, Himachal Pradesh is once again on the way to vote the BJP into power with a thumping majority (likely above 44) in the Assembly elections held on November 9, 2017.
Election results trends show that the Congress has been drastically reduced from 36 in 2012 to a below 20-mark as some of the results are still awaited. The poll percentage of the current election registered at 74.61, an all-time high, reflects the huge enthusiasm in the electorate that has routinely behaved as anti-establishment, and the current results authenticate this.
Gujarat and Himachal
Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, that went for elections recently, significantly differ in their social and economic planes as the former has a formidable development lead with a huge OBC, Patidar, ST, Dalit and Muslim chunks of population.
The BJP’s Hindutva card had its ramifications in Gujarat, but not in Himachal. While politics in Gujarat is greatly influenced by these very societal divisions that play a significant part in elections, Himachal Pradesh runs comparatively on different issues.
Himachal is a small-sized State with a high literacy rate and electorate here largely banks around the issues of governance, development, livelihood and employee’s demands, leaving aside the erstwhile factors like old and new Himachal, horticulturist-agriculturist divide and caste patterns.
Unlike the national scenario, Himachal has evolved a sound bi-polarity over the decades with the Congress and the BJP being the chief contestants. The social stratification in Himachal has transformed from the horizontal manifestation of the past to a vertical political reality of the day that excludes the possibility of a space for third alternative.
However, Left has been a consistent player in the State, and this time too CPI(M) has shown its presence by winning one seat from Theog with an increased vote share in the elections.
In the current elections, though Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal — who bears an overarching influence in the party — was declared quite late as chief ministerial candidate, the decision proved to be a trump card in the BJP’s convincing victory. The BJP’s central leadership’s U.P. kind of experimentation in Himachal and promotion of J.P. Nadda as the pivotal man also proved short of success as his rallies initially didn’t evoke much crowds.
Against it, Mr. Dhumal not only rejuvenated the election campaign, but also succeeded in uniting several party members peeved over certain ticket allocations. Furthermore, last week carpet bombing by central leaders like Narender Modi, Smriti Irani, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitely, Sushma Sawraj, J.P. Nadda and State Chief Ministers like Yogi Aditya Nath, M.L. Khattar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan etc., gave the BJP a strong lead in the campaign.
Compared to this the Congress remained a divided house as the relations between Virbhadra Singh, head of the congress government and Thakur Sukhwinder Singh, the organisational head, remained strained. The rift was visible, and ultimately resulted in the handing over of the election charge to Mr. Virbhadra Singh, who deliberately neglected certain areas influenced by the latter during the election campaign and let a negative message to the electorate.
At another instance, the supporters of Congress aspirant G.S. Bali sloganeered in front of Rahul Gandhi to declare him as the next chief ministerial candidate, unravelling the intra-party feud to the public. The Congress election tirade was led by Mr. Virbhadra Singh with a team of central leaders like Mr. Gandhi, S.S. Surjewala, Amarinder Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushilkumar Shinde etc., and fell short of an equivalent to the former.
Opportunism and defection is not new to the State politics as dissidents have crossed the floors over the years. Anil Sharma, a Rural Development Minister in the Virbhadra Singh government and son of former Union Minister Pandit Sukh Ram, still an influential voice from Mandi district, also left the Congress to join the BJP. Before him, Maheshwar Singh, a BJP dissident, had also merged his Himachal Lok Hit Party with the BJP in 2016. Although Mr. Anil Sharma has won from Mandi and Mr. Maheshwar Singh has lost from Kullu, yet this questions the integrity of the BJP that has remained critical of them on different charges in the past.
However, both the parties have faced frontal opposition from the dissidents within, who were deprived of tickets and contested as independents. The 'dynastic' business for which the Congress is all known for is also evident as wards of Mr. Virbhadra Singh, Kaul Singh Thakur, R.N. Sharma and B.B.L. Butail have been fielded keeping aside the public frown.
The royal families too have a sphere of influence in certain constituencies as Mr. Virbhadra Singh and his son (Rampur and Keonthal) Maheshwar Singh (Kullu), Asha Kumari (Dalhosie), Vijay Jyoti Sen (Keonthal) and a few others are in the fray. However, the Nalagarh and Chopal, the erstwhile active families, have been distanced from politics now.
Anti-incumbency has always been a significant factor in the State politics. This can be interpreted in different ways because almost on the same grounds such as corruption, crime, unemployment and employee’s demands the governments have been alternatively changed for more than three decades.
A change after regular interval is suggestive of constant failure of governments in translating the voters’ will into material gains and policymaking. This is partially due to a substantial force of State employees (around 2.6 lakh) who mediate between the government and the people, and are vertically divided on party lines. However, the failure of the government in settling several issues of employees, like Assured Career Progression Schemes i.e., 4-9-14, and regularisation of certain categories, placed it under tough ordeal in the current election.
Corruption and crime are the key charges against the incumbent government and the graph of crime and violence has risen up in the last few years. The murder of a forest guard in Karsog and Gudiya in Kotkhai evoked huge public wrath and the consequent failure of the government in getting the culprits nabbed also discredited it significantly.
The lackadaisical approach of the government in dealing with such incidents has turned out to be a major issue that figured up constantly in political speeches of the BJP and the Left and in public debates. This has caused the defeat of the Congress in both the concerned constituencies of Karsog and Jubbal-Kotkhai where Hira Lal and Narender Bragta from the BJP have won.
Although the Congress government has performed well in employment generation, opening up of new educational and health institutions and several development schemes kept it in strong contention. Nevertheless, a good number of foundation stone ceremonies and declarations are still pending in files and people understand the intent behind affecting the current mandate. The poor road conditions, health hazards, water supply and circumstantial caste equations are also the issues at the micro level.
In all, the BJP leads the house now broadly in the background of anti-establishment mandate with a multiple of challenges and issues the State is faced with.
Prof. Harish K.Thakur is Chairman, Dept. of Political Science at the Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla