Comment

No surprise in the hills: on Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections

Going by past trends and the issues involved, the 2017 Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh has been one of the easiest to call in recent times. No political pundit, opinion piece or poll gave even the slimmest chance to the Congress party retaining power in the hill State.

No backing

Even the Congress, barring the 83-year-old and six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh who waged a lonely battle, appeared to have given up hope. Congress president Rahul Gandhi spared just a day from his Gujarat campaign and addressed only three election rallies while none of the other party stalwarts from the Centre addressed even a single meeting.

Mr. Singh single-handedly led the campaign and remained hopeful of a victory till the very end. Despite his age he travelled by road and covered over 60 of the 68 Assembly constituencies. At the end of it all he said was that the lack of resources and support from senior party leaders were among the constraints that led to the defeat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the other hand addressed several rallies, while an army of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leaders such as party chief Amit Shah, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned.

To be sure, local issues dominated the campaign. Unlike Gujarat, where the Congress lay stress on the “failure” of demonetisation and the poor rollout of the goods and services tax (GST), these issues remained at the periphery in the campaigning in Himachal, which has a significant trading community.

Alleged irregularities

The fight turned bitter this time with the BJP leading a frontal attack on Mr. Singh for alleged corruption and propagating a “mafia raj”. Central agencies, including the Income Tax department, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), registered cases against him for financial irregularities and corruption. He even faced arrest but was granted a judicial stay. Mr. Singh, as expected, called it a “political witch hunt” claiming he was being targeted for his action in registering cases against the BJP’s P.K. Dhumal, and his son, Anurag Thakur, a BJP leader and former cricket administrator. Ironically, Mr. Dhumal, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, lost the election and the party may have to find another leader for the job.

Poor law and order

The Virbhadra Singh government also came under fire for the deteriorating law and order situation in the State. A spike in murder and rape cases has been reported across the State. Recently, the State was shocked by the rape and murder of a schoolgirl in the upper Shimla region.

 

Following large-scale protests, the Himachal police arrested some youth who hailed from another State and had been employed as labour. However, locals alleged the involvement of well-connected youth and that the police were trying to shield them. Protests intensified when one of the arrested youth died in police custody, forcing Mr. Singh to order a CBI inquiry.

After a preliminary inquiry, the arrested youth were given a clean chit and some police officials investigating the case arrested. The CBI has not been able to identify the perpetrators though it claims to be close to a breakthrough.

Coming close to the Assembly elections, a spate of such developments led to State-wide protests and only contributed to growing disenchantment with the incumbent Congress government.

Thus, while the BJP may have the satisfaction of retaining power in Gujarat and wresting power from the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, the issues and factors remain different in these States. For the Congress, however, the overall tally of States in which it is in power has decreased further.

Vipin Pubby is a Chandigarh-based journalist

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 6:31:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/no-surprise-in-the-hills/article21865286.ece

Next Story