The regional divide is a more dominant factor in Himachal Pradesh than many other factors. The State is broadly divided into three regions namely Kangra, Mandi and Shimla.
Mandi, which is also the home ground for Jai Ram Thakur (outgoing Chief Minister), was dominated by the BJP in the Assembly election of 2017. This time too, the BJP won 14 of the total 19 seats and a vote share of 47.5% from this region (Table below). Moreover, the BJP led a watershed victory by sweeping nine of the total 10 seats in Mandi district. The lone seat went to the Congress but the party had drawn a blank in the 2017 election. Just a year back the BJP lost the Mandi Lok Sabha byelection in November 2021 which was probably the wake-up sign for the party. However, in these elections, Mandi was the face saver for Jai Ram Thakur and the BJP. The party regained its presence in this region. The Congress on the other hand was successful in five seats, which is three seats higher than what it had gained in the last elections held in 2017.
If Mandi was dominated by the BJP, the Congress traditionally draws its support base and leadership from the Shimla region. It maintained its hold in this region and won 15 of the 19 seats.
It was successful on seven of the total eight seats in the Shimla district. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP had made inroads into this district by winning three out of eight seats but could retain only one in these elections.
The Congress also won four out of five seats in Solan district, three out of five from Sirmaur district and one seat from Kinnaur district.
The Kangra region, which is the biggest region in terms of seats, is believed to be the game changer in Himachal politics. Whichever party leads in this region has a better chance of forming the government. More specifically, it is the Kangra district comprising of 15 seats which is the real kingmaker.
In the 2017 Assembly election, the Congress could win only three seats from here. However, this time around, it improved its performance and tally of seats by winning ten seats, which is a gain of seven seats from the last elections. Not only in terms of seats, but the greatest gain in terms of vote share was also from this region (3.4%).
The Congress’s overall performance in this region helped as it added 20 seats to its kitty. Since the past few elections, the party that has bagged the majority of the seats in the region has formed the government. The Congress’s performance in this region reinforces the local belief that the road to Shimla (power) goes through Kangra. Usually, up till now, Hamirpur and Shimla districts used to dominate the politics in the State as the preceding Chief Ministers were usually from those districts. It was for the first time in 2017 that someone from Mandi had become the CM. It will be keenly watched how the regional dynamics now unfold in the wake of Congress’ victory.
(Ramesh Chauhan is professor at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. Vibha Attri is a researcher at Lokniti-CSDS)