Keen contest ahead — on Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls

It is not clear why the Election Commission announced the date for Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh — a single-phase vote on November 9 — but not for Gujarat, which also needs to go to the polls this winter. The EC has said that the results for Himachal Pradesh will be declared on December 18 while elections in Gujarat will be held before that date. Be that as it may, the model code of conduct has kicked in for the hill State, which is poised for a direct contest between the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Himachal Pradesh has returned these parties alternately to power for each term since the early 1990s. Smaller parties formed by dissidents and rebels from the Congress and the BJP in the late-1990s and the early 2010s faded away after gaining small pockets of support, ensuring that this will be a clear contest between the two national parties. The Congress already has a headstart in the campaign, having announced that the 83-year-old Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is its chief ministerial candidate, while the BJP is yet to choose between former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Union Minister J.P. Nadda. The Congress’s proactive strategy is understandable. Himachal is one of a handful of States in the country that are ruled by the party, and holding the State is important to stave off suggestions of a decline, or possibly to hold out hope for a revival.

As a State, Himachal Pradesh is placed somewhere at the top in terms of social indices, which is reflected in its high HDI (human development index) ranking, rate of literacy and rural well-being. This is largely a consequence of the welfare programmes of successive State governments. The public sector, services and the tourism industry play vital roles in its economy. With the lingering effects of demonetisation and the teething issues of the goods and services tax regime casting a shadow on the economy, the Congress is keen to make issues out of these in the election. It is seeking to cash in on the reported disgruntlement among traders and the small-business community, which usually favour the BJP. By fielding Mr. Singh as the face of the party yet again, the Congress probably expects that the old networks of patronage fostered by the “Raja-ji” will come to its aid as well as to attract public support for the expansive government spending on welfare in the State. The BJP, on the other hand, will focus on the corruption cases plaguing the incumbent and as always hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity will overcome misgivings on the economic front and any possible friction between the Dhumal and Nadda camps. If one were to go by recent elections, such as the closely contested municipal polls in Shimla, there is no definite wave for or against either party. The campaign may throw up pointers on which way the winds are blowing.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 9:42:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/keen-contest-ahead/article19856033.ece

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