As Himachal Pradesh prepares for the Assembly election on November 12, the stage looks set for yet another bipolar contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. The initial euphoria in the hill State after the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), following its emphatic win in neighbouring Punjab, is fizzling out. In the past three decades, Himachal has seen a bipolar electoral system, with the Congress and the BJP alternately forming the government every five years. The upcoming battle does not seem any different, though the entry of AAP has added a tinge of a new flavour to the election fare. While the ruling BJP is harping on its ‘development’ works in the past four years to retain power, rising corruption, inflation, unemployment, demand for an old pension scheme for government employees, and poor facilities in the health and education sectors are key issues being raised by the Opposition, including the Congress and AAP. The BJP is focusing on ‘mission repeat’ and steering its campaign on a ‘double engine’ plank around the ‘development’ works done by the Centre and the State government. The BJP’s blistering campaign is being led by the central leadership. In the past few months, its prominent leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and party president J.P. Nadda, who hails from Himachal Pradesh, have addressed several rallies.
The electioneering for the Congress party, which is fighting to wrest power from the BJP, has been largely steered by the State leadership, though last week, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed the first election rally. The Congress is harping on the ‘anti-incumbency’ factor against the BJP, but the going is not smooth. In the absence of its tallest leader and six-time Chief Minister, the late Virbhadra Singh, there seems to be a ‘vacuum’ in the State leadership, even though his wife Pratibha Singh was given the reins of the party; the appeal and political acumen of the former Chief Minister seem difficult to replace. In the absence of a strong State leadership, factionalism has been coming to the fore time and again. This has led to several senior leaders including sitting MLAs quitting party posts. The problem of there being several claimants for the post of Chief Minister is another concern. While the BJP appears geared to tackle the headwinds, the Congress seems ill-prepared to convert the resentment against the ruling party into a sentiment in its favour.