In Himachal Pradesh, BJP has a daunting task at hand as Assembly bypolls go along with Lok Sabha polls

The byelections were necessitated following the disqualification of the Congress MLAs from the State Legislative Assembly for defying a party whip in February this year

Updated - May 26, 2024 12:27 pm IST

Published - May 26, 2024 12:08 pm IST - SHIMLA

Image used for representational purpose.

Image used for representational purpose. | Photo Credit: ANI

With Himachal Pradesh gearing up for the 2024 Parliamentary election, the stakes for Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), which swept all four Lok Sabha seats in the State twice – in 2014 and 2019 - are even bigger as the task appears daunting amidst simultaneous byelections for six Assembly seats in the hill State.

The elections are poised to be a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress party, which is in power in Himachal Pradesh. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) party has fielded its candidates for all four seats as well.

The Congress-ruled state of Himachal Pradesh saw political turbulence, a few months ago with six of its MLAs turning rebels. With all of them now contesting as candidates of the BJP for the byelections on six Assembly seats, the BJP has a challenge at its hands to accomplish an ambitious feat. These byelections were necessitated following the disqualification of the Congress MLAs from the State Legislative Assembly for defying a party whip in February this year.

For the Congress, the key challenger to the BJP, the parliamentary polls are a fight to boost the party’s electoral prospects for its revival at the national level. Alongside, the win in the Assembly bypolls is also critical for the survival and stability of the Congress’s State government.

In the 68-member Assembly, the majority figure is 35. The Congress had 40 MLAs, after the disqualification of six MLAs, the Congress number fell to 34. Though with the disqualification episode, the total number of members in the House has dropped to 62 and the majority figure stands at 32, yet the Congress, which has been suffering from factionalism, needs to ensure its win to go beyond the majority mark for running a stable government during its remaining tenure.

As intense campaigning continues to gain momentum in the State, which goes to polls on June 1, the BJP appears to be leaving nothing to chance in Himachal Pradesh, the home State of its national president J.P. Nadda. The BJP swept all four Lok Sabha seats — Shimla, Kangra, Hamirpur, and Mandi — in 2019 with a vote share of over 69%. The victory came on the back of a turnout in excess of 70%, the highest ever in the State. The Congress secured just 27% of the votes in the poll. In 2014 as well the BJP had won all the Lok Sabha seats.

The Congress campaign is led by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, who is seeking votes on the performance of its year-and-a-half-old government and aggressively attacking the BJP for its alleged attempt to destabilise and topple the democratically elected Congress government in the State, besides Centre’s indifferent attitude towards Himachal Pradesh. The Congress accuses the BJP-led Union government of not standing with the people of the State in the need of hour when a relentless monsoon last year brought the hill state to its knees by causing extensive damage to life and property. Despite repeated requests, the Central government didn’t give any special relief package for the disaster-hit people of the State, nonetheless, with its limited resources, the State government announced a special package of ₹4,500 crore, so that the affected people can get relief.

Countering the BJP’s charges over unkept election promises, the Congress has been highlighting that immediately after coming to power, the government started to deliver on its poll guarantee. The old pension scheme (OPS) for government employees was restored, benefiting 1.36 lakh government employees, Rajiv Gandhi start-up scheme has been started for generating employment opportunities, announcement has been made to give monthly financial assistance of ₹1,500 to women of the age group of 18 to 60 years during the ongoing financial year, and stern action against corruption are key accomplishments of the government being presented before the electorate.

To garner support, the BJP leaders led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are showcasing the achievements of the Union government including the dilution of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and the strengthening of the country’s economic condition, besides building a narrative around nationalism by giving a “strong and resilient” government to the country. Also, the party has been highlighting its pledge for a Uniform Civil Code.

Apart from the party’s achievements, the BJP is raking the “failure” of the Congress government in the State to fulfil its election guarantees – be it giving one lakh jobs to the youth, free electricity up to 300 units every month to all households, and monthly assistance of ₹1,500 to women among other promises extended during the 2020 Assembly election campaign.

The key candidates for Lok Sabha seats include BJP’s actor-turned-politician Kangana Ranaut, who is embroiled in a keen battle against Congress’ Vikramaditya Singh, son of former Chief Minister the late Virbhadra Singh from Mandi. Former Union Minister Anand Sharma is Congress’s candidate from Kangra, who is pitted against BJP’s Rajeev Bhardwaj, the party’s state vice-president.

Union Minister Anurag Thakur of the BJP is facing Congress’s Satpal Raizada in Hamirpur. The Congress has pitted its Kasauli MLA Vinod Sultanpuri from the Shimla seat against BJP’s Suresh Kashyap, the current MP.

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