It’s time to script history, says Congress Legislature Party leader Mukesh Agnihotri as he pitches for his party’s win in the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections this month and also perhaps his own chief ministerial ambitions.
The senior legislator is hoping to win a fifth straight term — he has won twice from this constituency — which was in the headlines recently for Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying the foundation stone of a drug plant. He had earlier won from Santokhgarh constituency.
“Now it is time for Haroli to script history on two counts. Ensure a hat-trick of BJP defeat here and install your own rule in Himachal Pradesh,” Mr. Agnihoti told a cheering crowd earlier this week, asserting he has represented the area in the Vidhan Sabha with diligence and articulated their issues strongly in the assembly.
Haroli in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district is a key constituency, particularly for the Congress that has been scoring wins from here despite the BJP’s sway and is aiming at regaining power in the hill State.
Mr. Agnihotri, a journalist-turned-politician, realises the high stakes in this election, as do his supporters, with the ruling BJP out to beat the historical trend of anti-incumbency in the State by repeating its government.
It’s a triangular contest with Mr. Agnihotri pitted against BJP’s Ram Kumar, who he has defeated in the last two assembly elections, and first timer Ravinder Pal Singh Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party, a new entrant in State elections.
Across large swathes of the segment which borders Punjab, Mr. Agnihotri’s supporters are clamouring for their leader to be made the chief ministerial face of the Congress.
Mr. Agnihotri is also heard obliquely feeding into this narrative in his poll meetings.
“After 50 years, Una’s son became leader of opposition in the Himachal assembly. For the first time, Haroli got a prominent political position, which was earlier held by former Chief Ministers Virbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal,” he said at a rally.
That he should be chief ministerial next was left unsaid but the messaging was clear.
“Haroli has a chance to have it's own CM after decades and should not let this chance go,” said Jia Lal, a long-time resident of the area.
The Congress leader also claimed that he has remained undefeated due to the love of the people for the last four terms and that the BJP had to bring Mr. Modi to defeat him this time.
The BJP, which won by a slender margin of 7,000 votes in 2017, has also geared up for a win from Haroli. Besides the drug park, Mr. Modi also dedicated to the nation the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT)-Una and flagged off the inaugural run of the new Vande Bharat Express from Amb Andaura in Una district to New Delhi.
While the Congress Chief Minister hopeful steps up his campaign, which ends on November 10, Ram Kumar, a former teacher, is seeking votes saying he remained among the people of Haroli despite losing elections and helped them in their time of need.
In his poll meetings, Mr. Kumar urges the voters to give him one chance and try him out.
He has been hard selling the bulk drug plant and claims it would help provide 40,000 direct and another 60,000 indirect jobs to the people of the area.
“This plant is 30 times bigger than the Nangal fertiliser plant,” Mr. Kumar said in a recent election meeting while listing developmental works initiated in Haroli over the last five years.
“I have remained among you and have tried to serve you in your time of need,” he said.
The AAP’s Mann, an advocate by profession, and the third contestant in the fray is going with the plank of initiating change, saying people are fed up with “false promises” of both the BJP and Congress and need to try Arvind Kejriwal’s model of “corruption-free governance”.
“Script history by voting out both the old players to help install a government which runs on merit and without biases,” he said at a meeting, persuading voters to go the Delhi and Punjab way.
AAP presence subdued in State
As AAP seeks to strengthen its base in Himachal, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia have campaigned for him in their bid to capture fresh territory. However, their presence is still low key in the hill State.
Mr. Agnihotri, however, sees BJP as his only challenger and attacks the ruling party for “misgovernance, inflation and graft”.
He dismisses AAP as a non-starter, as does Mr. Kumar, with both parties ensuring the fight remains direct as it has always been.
The election will be held on November 12 and the votes counted on December 8.