BJP expected to fare better in Himachal Pradesh as Congress' Virbhadra Singh has his back to the wall
While a host of top BJP leaders have been leading the party’s campaign and getting a warm response, Virbhadra Singh is the only star campaigner for the Congress.
Himachal Pradesh, which has seen regular swapping of power between rivals Congress and the BJP, including its earlier avatars, is now witnessing a one-horse race with chief minister Virbhadra Singh waging a lonely and losing battle for his party.
While a host of top BJP leaders, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, have been leading the party’s campaign and getting a warm response, 83-year old six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh is the only star campaigner for his party. Even the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who appears to be concentrating on Gujarat, has kept away from the hilly state. He is scheduled to address a couple of election rallies in the system during the last two days of campaigning.
In contrast, Modi has addressed nearly half a dozen election rallies and has actually decided to address more such rallies than those planned for him. Even before the announcement of elections he had visited the state and had addressed a massive gathering at the historic Ridge in Shimla.
Among other party star campaigners who have been frequenting the state are union finance minister Arun Jaitley, union home minister Rajnath Singh, union health minister JP Nadda, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and a host of other senior leaders from the region.
Interestingly a few Congress leaders who were assigned election duties in Himachal, remained confined to their hotel rooms in Shimla. “What’s the point in addressing an election rally if there are few people to listen to you?” confided a senior former minister.
But credit is due to the old war horse of the Congress, Virbhadra Singh, popularly called 'Raja' (of the erstwhile state of Rampur Bushhar), who addresses four to five rallies each day in various parts of the state. At times he travels by helicopter but mostly hits the road as he tells his audiences, which are impressive, that the BJP government at the Centre has sealed all his funds on “trumped up charges” of corruption and irregularities in Income Tax accounts. He tells the people that the Centre has unleashed the IT department, the Enforcement Department as well as the CBI to probe just one case. The plea finds resonance in Himachal where his supporters think that the amount in question, Rs 4-5 crore, was petty enough for the Raja to indulge in corruption.
Yet he is fighting with his back to the wall. His current tenure has not been outstanding, though he likes to be called the “builder of modern Himachal” and the law and order situation has taken a big hit. A particular gangrape involving a school going girl at Kotkhai a few months ago had led to much criticism of governance. It was alleged that sons of highly influential persons were involved in the gangrape, but the state police had arrested some innocent workers from outside the state. Subsequently a CBI inquiry was ordered and it arrested the investigation officers, led by an IGP, for arresting innocents and killing one of them in police custody.
BJP can expect to fare much better in the state also because the adverse impact of demonetisation and the roll-out of GST is comparatively much less in Himachal than in Gujarat and other states. The reason is simple: Himachal is not known for its trading community. Commercial activities and production of goods is also restricted. It has thus remained largely insulated from the impact of GST. Besides the Centre has recently extended tax concessions for Himachal a few months ago.
The most influential community, and thus one of the major factors, in Himachal elections are the government employees. Almost all families in Himachal have one or more members in the state government and one of the biggest ambitions among the youth is to land a government job. They are also a restless tribe and want a change of government every time to extract more concessions. Thus the two parties had been shown the revolving door every time since the state was granted full statehood in 1971.
And with the BJP led NDA at the Centre, the Himachali voters, particularly the employees, would find the BJP more attractive. In any case the party has promised much more perks for them if it forms the next government.
No wonder the BJP and its leaders are all charged up. Prime minister Modi is leading the charge and calling the Congress a ‘termite’ which must be destroyed. “I haven’t come here to ask you to make BJP win. I have come here to ask you to give it a 3/4th majority.” He goes on to urge the masses to come out in huge numbers to vote for the BJP. “Ek bhi polling booth aisa nahi hona chahiye jahan Congress roopi deemak bacha ho,” he says (There should not be even a single election booth where termite-ridden Congress could survive).
Himachalis shall have to wait for over a month to wait for the results together with those of Gujarat Assembly elections but the writing on the wall is unambiguous.
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