The coming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are poised to be advanced by a month.
The Election Commission is actively considering a possible poll schedule in November to avoid difficulties that all concerned –political parties, official machinery and voters– might face in Himachal Pradesh due to snow fall in December.
Sources said while there is a near unanimity in parties to conduct single phase polling in Himachal, it is possible, that like last time, the snow-prone constituencies of Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Bharmour could go to polls on an earlier date between Dussehra, (25 October) and Diwali (13 November), while the rest of the state goes to polls anytime after Diwali. The Gujarat polls would be clubbed simultaneously.
If that happens, the poll schedule could be announced in early October. The Commission usually makes this announcement 45 days in advance, while the model code of conduct comes into immediate effect.
Last time in 2007, the Gujarat polls were held in two phases, on 11 and 16 December, while Chief Minister Narendra Modi took oath of office on 25 December. The Himachal Pradesh polls were split into two phases, separated by over a month.
While the first phase, in the snow-prone constituencies of Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Bharmour, was scheduled for 14 November, the next phase covering the remaining constituencies was held only on 19 December. Prem Kumar Dhumal assumed office of Chief Minister on 30 December, 2007.
The electioneering in both these states, where BJP and Congress are directly pitted against each other, is sure to see a heated exchange on Coalgate. While neither Gujarat nor HP are coal producing states and thus don’t have any straight involvement in the raging political controversy, the BJP would like to use the coal scam as a substantive corruption issue against Congress.
Since both the states are currently ruled by the BJP, a victory in either of the two states will help it rubbish opposition charges of corruption. This time around the war of words campaigning could just be shriller.
Ahead of that, the BJP is gearing up to take the war on Coalgate to other parts of the country. It is waiting for party President Nitin Gadkari to return from his foreign trip to chalk out a detailed programme. Top party leaders will hold a core committee meeting on 13 September. This will be followed by a meeting of General Secretaries and other office bearers.
The Party will also have a three-day meeting of the National executive and National Council on from 26 – 28 September in Faridabad. While the National Executive will meet on 26 September, the much larger National Council meeting, which has over a thousand members will meet on 27 and 28 September.
The BJP leadership will use these meetings to enthuse its medium rung leaders and workers to lead the attack against the Congress led UPA government in their respective areas. They will also present alternate ideas for public discourse on governance.
Second, the Council would put a seal on a decision taken during the Mumbai National executive to give a second term to Gadkari as party President. The party constitution so far does not allow two consecutive terms to the party president. The proposed ratification of an amendment in the party’s constitution would pave the way for the re-nomination of incumbent party chief Nitin Gadkari to be at the helm in 2014 when next general elections are scheduled.
It would in fact come as a great honour to Gandkari who would join the league of two BJP icons, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani to make more than one term in office in succession.
But all eyes will be focused on Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. Ahead of the assembly polls, he would be expected to set the agenda.
The Congress has so far avoided getting into any emotive issue in Gujarat and has been busy in making populist announcements to beat Modi’s plank of good governance. It remains to be seen whether Congress will be able to stick to its plan during the heat of electioneering.
Himachal Pradesh generally alternates between Congress and BJP after every election, but this time around Chief Minister Dhumal will be tested to beat the conventional wisdom on anti-incumbency.
Early this year, Akali Dal-BJP in Punjab broke the rotational power transfer. The combine was able to defy anti-incumbency. The Congress’s best chances are in Himachal and would not like neighbouring Punjab’s example to be extended to the hilly state.