Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls | Close fight between BJP, Congress

BJP has dropped 11 sitting MLAs from candidate list to fight anti-incumbency sentiments in the State; Congress may be hit by factionalism and fragmented

November 05, 2022 12:04 am | Updated 12:24 pm IST - SHIMLA/BILASPUR

BJP president J.P. Nadda with party candidate from Kasumpti Suresh Bhardwaj and others during a roadshow ahead of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in Shimla on November 4, 2022.

BJP president J.P. Nadda with party candidate from Kasumpti Suresh Bhardwaj and others during a roadshow ahead of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in Shimla on November 4, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

A close fight is on the cards in the upcoming Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, with the ruling BJP hindered by anti-incumbency sentiments, while the challenging Congress has been affected by factionalism and fragmented leadership within its State units.

Himachal Pradesh is scheduled to go to the polls in a week’s time, on November 12, to elect representatives to the 68 seats in its Legislative Assembly. Many voters have expressed mixed sentiments towards both the Congress and the BJP, which have been alternatively forming governments in the State for over three decades.

The bipolar nature of the electoral battle is unlikely to change this time around. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is contesting 67 out of 68 seats after an emphatic win in neighbouring Punjab earlier this year, hardly seems to have found a foot on the ground among Himachal Pradesh’s voters.

In Bilaspur district’s Panjpuri village, 24-year-old Lucky, who runs a daily need shop, said he had been confident of the BJP’s return to power until its candidates were announced. “Several schemes were started by the BJP, especially the one for free treatment, which is good. I feel they [BJP] did a fine job, but after they announced their candidates, dropping their sitting MLAs in a few constituencies, there’s a feeling that the party was not confident of its work,” he said.

The BJP has denied candidature to 11 of its sitting MLAs, including a Minister, and has also shifted the constituencies of two other Ministers. The selection of new faces as BJP candidates is being seen by a section of voters as a strategic attempt by the party to offset the anti-incumbency factor.

“The BJP gave tickets to new faces, and also changed seats of some others. This indicates that the BJP is well aware of the fact that there’s anger against them,” said Dalip Gupta, who runs a tiny grocery store in Shimla, the State capital. Noting that Cabinet Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, who is the MLA currently representing the Shimla (Urban) seat, will be contesting from the Kasumpti constituency instead this year, Mr. Gupta opined that “this is a clear indication that they are fearing a backlash”.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown period, people like me struggled, but there was hardly any government help. There were announcements of certain waivers, but I didn’t get any rebate in the garbage bills, water and electricity bills,” said Mr. Gupta. “By and large, no political party - be it the BJP or the Congress -- keep their election promises. The government has policies for its employees but for people like me, who run small private shops there’s hardly anything. Having said that, one thing the BJP did good was the ‘health card’, in which a benefit upto ₹5 lakh is given.”

In Bilaspur town, Des Raj, who runs a chemist shop, argued that the Congress party had a chance to wrest power in the upcoming election if they presented a united face. “I feel Congress has a chance to win in the election, but several leaders have left the party recently due to factionalism, which could be detrimental to their electoral prospects,” he said. “The demand for the restoration of the Old Pension Scheme by government employees was not fulfilled, which could go against the BJP. My father got retired from the State Electricity Board recently and the OPS is a matter of big concern in my family,” he added.

In Nayi Sarali village, a retired CRPF sub-inspector Jeet Ram Sharma expressed contentment with the pace of development over the past five years of the BJP regime. “Foundation of works has been laid in the past five years and results would be seen in the future. Recently we got AIIMS, which is good… The pace of development, be it the construction of roads or implementation of schemes at the local level, has been much faster under the BJP government than the previous government. The AAP is hardly in the electoral fight,” said Mr. Sharma.

While the BJP and the Congress are contesting all 68 Assembly constituencies in the State, the AAP has put up candidates in 67 seats. Other parties in the fray include the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, which is contesting in 53 constituencies, Rashtriya Devbhoomi Party in 29, Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 11, Himachal Jan Kranti Party in six, and the Hindu Samaj Party and Swabhiman Party in three seats each. One candidate each is contesting from the Himachal Janata Party, Bhartiya Veer Dal, Sainik Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Niti Party and the Communist Party of India, apart from 99 Independent candidates.

Out of the 412 candidates in the electoral fray, 24 are female, while 388 are male. A total of 55.93 lakh voters are on the electoral rolls of the State, and will cast their ballot in 7,881 polling stations, according to official data.

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