Himachal Pradesh 2017

Still waters run deep in Himachal

Out in the field: Virbhadra Singh at a campaign rally in Palampur.   | Photo Credit: Akhilesh Kumar

A long drive through the narrow, winding roads of Himachal Pradesh does not give off the sense that the November 9 elections are just days away.

One does come across stretches of broken roads, suggesting much work remains to be done on road infrastructure — a key campaign point of the BJP against the ruling Congress. There are towns with hospitals facing a dearth of doctors. Serious illness often means a drive to Shimla, people say.

One also comes across traders ranting about a business slump after the introduction of the GST, though they have not yet fully turned against their traditional party, the BJP.

What is clearly missing is the heat and dust of elections that is common across India. There are posters of local candidates in some places. And the rare vehicle with a loudspeaker fitted on it. There is also the rare sight of a party worker carrying a bunch of party flags on a ramshackle motorcycle. But political discussions at tea shops are few and far between.

“This is an election where voters are silent. They do not display their cards easily,” says Sanjay Sharma of Arki, where Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is contesting. “Voters are educated now. They know how to guard the secrecy of their democratic rights. They will vote and the votes will speak,” a resident says.

Another resident says that voters have seen both parties and their promises and are no longer quickly enthused. “If nothing else we do have NOTA,” he adds with a wry smile.

However, the cyclical logic of elections in the State does offer the BJP an edge.

People also claim that the condition of roads was better in the days when Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP was the Chief Minister.

However, people credit present Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh with better work for government servants, a large segment in the State.

But there is no distinct wave. There are no strong likes and dislikes in general. The favourite reply of people when asked about the elections is: “Let us see. Anything can happen.”

In the absence of a general wave, local seat equations do matter, and candidate selection is likely to have some influence on the outcome, local people say.

In Palampur in Kangra, for instance, Indu Goswami of the BJP is pitted against Ashish Butail of the Congress, who is son of a former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. However, there is a rebel BJP candidate, Praveen Sharma, who is believed to be close to veteran leader Shanta Kumar and has been a former MLA. This makes the seat unpredictable, and the BJP has planned a major door-to-door campaign here.

Traders’ votes, however, may get split because of the GST slump.

However, the BJP has used former Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s pitch for greater autonomy for Kashmir to the hilt to reach out to the large ex-servicemen constituency here.

The projection of Mr. Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate may, however, help the BJP, as it needs a face against Virbhadra Singh, who still retains a huge stature. That apart, both the CM candidates being Thakurs — a caste constituting about one-third of the State population — the BJP has ensured that the dominant community is not alienated from it.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 5:39:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/himachal-pradesh-2017/still-waters-run-deep-in-himachal/article19983273.ece

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