The recent entry into the BJP of state Congress working president Harsh Mahajan is considered a definite asset for the ruling party
New Delhi: With less than a month remaining for 68 Assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh to go to the polls, the ruling BJP seems to have an advantage as it aims to achieve “Mission Repeat”. The state’s main Opposition party, the Congress, is gripped with dissatisfaction and disarray. The Assembly polls will be held on November 12 and the counting is on December 8. The BJP had won 44 Assembly seats in 2017.
The recent entry into the BJP of state Congress working president Harsh Mahajan is considered a definite asset for the ruling party. Mr Mahajan was considered a close confidant of former CM Virbhadra Singh, who passed away last year. A mass leader, Virbhadra Singh was seen as one of the Congress’ main “star campaigners”, and had influence in almost every region of the state and among all castes. Within the state Congress, many feel that after Virbhadra Singh, there is a leadership crisis, though there are many contenders for the leadership.
On Monday, the BJP core group leaders from the state are likely to meet the central leadership to discuss names of candidates, and on Tuesday, the central election committee, which includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is expected to meet at the BJP headquarters. The state leadership has sought the opinion of office-bearers from the district, mandal and state units from four parliamentary seats to form the panels of probable candidates for each Assembly seat, before the final name is decided.
BJP president J.P. Nadda is likely to take a final call on whether or not former chief minister and party stalwart Prem Kumar Dhumal, who is now 78 years old and has crossed the party’s unofficial age bar by three years, will contest. Prof. Dhumal was the party’s CM candidate in 2017 but lost the Sujanpur seat to his one-time protege Rajinder Rana. It is being speculated that Mr Rana could join the BJP.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP) has failed to make any impact so far and has been facing troubles since the Delhi-based outfit announced it would contest polls in the state. The AAP had to dissolve its state unit earlier this year as most senior office-bearers joined the BJP.
Though the Congress appointed its late leader’s wife and MP Pratibha Singh as PCC chief, voices of dissatisfaction have been growing. Many in the state party feels that the central leadership is only interested in the ongoing “Bharat Jodo Yatra” led by Rahul Gandhi when it should be busy strategising for the coming polls. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was the only senior party leader who has addressed a rally in the state so far.
On the BJP side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda have already addressed rallies in the state and other senior leaders are also scheduled to visit the state.
Himachal Pradesh has been electing both the Congress and the BJP to power alternately, but the BJP is confident it will break the trend this time. Though the Congress has been raking up the old pension scheme halted by the Centre, promising one lakh jobs every year and a monthly allowance for women, dissension within the organisation is likely to mar its prospects. Some Congress leaders also feel that the party’s decreasing footprint across states and its “embarrassing” performance in Punjab will also impact its performance in the upcoming polls.
Central schemes and state schemes are the main poll planks of the BJP, whose vote now also consists of beneficiaries of many Central schemes. Since 2014, a significant number of the lower middle class and middle class population has backed the BJP, whose traditional vote bank – the Rajputs and Brahmins -- have a numerically strong presence in the hill state. The Centre’s recent announcement on including the Hatti community in the Scheduled Tribes list is also expected to benefit the BJP as Hattis have a significant presence in at least nine Assembly seats.