Chandigarh: Himachal Pradesh will go to the polls tomorrow to elect the 14th Vidhan Sabha. The Bharatiya Janat Party BJP is moving the mountains in this hill state to woo the voters seeking a repeat of the term. If it happens, it will be a first-ever, in the real sense. Former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh did repeat a term in 1984, but that was after announcing the polls having completed just two years in office, and riding on the wave of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
The high-octane election campaign was led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP National President JP Nadda and the Chief Minister of Himachal Jai Ram Thakur, and Union minister Smriti Irani. To seek votes, their single biggest narrative has been the double engine government Himachalis will get once the saffron party is voted to power.
Between the five of them, they addressed 78 rallies – four by PM Modi, 11 by Home Minister Shah, 20 by Nadda, nine by Smriti Irani, and 34 by CM Thakur. While Congress leaders have also addressed as many as 69 rallies – Priyanka Vadra five, Mallikarjun Kharge one, Sachin Pilot 31, and Pratibha Singh 32. Congress is alternately relying on smaller sabhas at the zila parishad and gram level also as a campaign strategy.
Himachal Voters At A Glance
The state has 55,92,828 voters. Out of these, there are 28,54,945 men voters and 27,37,845 women voters. The number of third-gender voters is just 38. There are a total of 412 candidates in the fray in 68 assembly elections. Among them, there are 24 women candidates.
While 1.93 lakh voters have been registered for the first time, 1.21 lakh voters are above the age of 80. Out of these, 56,501 voters have various disabilities. There are a total of 7,881 polling stations in the state.
What Are The Issues In Himachal Elections?
While the top four issues which the voters of Himachal are talking about are the revival of the Old Pension Scheme OPS for the employees appointed under the New Pension Scheme NPS, employment for youth, the issue of Agniveer (temporary four-year recruitment in the Indian Military), especially in lower Himachal, sources say, it was inflation coupled with Covid deaths which led to the BJP getting wiped out during the by-polls to the three assemblies and a parliamentary seat in Himachal in 2021.
“If you remember after the bitter-sweet election results in 2021, the fuel prices went down immediately which had crossed the Rs 100 per litre mark then,” says Yudhvir Singh, a resident of Kangra, who reiterates even bigger than OPS will be the issue of inflation and no one is talking about it.
A former Bharatiya Kisan Sangh founder member, which has an affiliation with Rashtriya Swayamsevak RSS, who didn’t wish to be named says, “I have seen Shanta Kumar and PK Dhumal from close quarters. Shanta Kumar and Dhumal both are lying low. Dhumal felt sidelined. I don’t think his men are going to take it lying down, particularly in Hamirpur, and Kangra. With Dhumal around and Virbhadra no more, BJP had an interesting advantage. But they have forfeited it. Even voters are silent. And silence has always meant dissent.”
It is people within the Sangh who are presenting a bleak picture as we go into the polls. Another BKS member says, “From Shimla district, I can’t see BJP winning more than one seat out of eight. If they win a second seat, it would be due to other forces, such as CPI(M) candidate eating into the Congress’s votes, etc.”
Cong Leader Full In State, BJP Full Of Nat’l Leaders
Also, many say that Congress may look leaderless but it is in a way full of leaders who want to become a chief minister even before becoming an MLA, an intrinsic problem to the DNA of the Congress party. But BJP presents a different problem. The saffron party to looks leaderless, if we minus their national leadership.
“They have PM Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, JP Nadda, but in Himachal, they have to contend with Jai Ram Thakur, whose name has been satirically misspelt in vernacular newspapers as Jao Ram Thakur during the Covid outbreak. So who do they have,” says a former journalist, who has been close to the Congress and the BJP dispensation from time to time.
Youngest & The Oldest Candidates
The youngest candidate in these elections is 28-year-old Chaitanya from Gagret. He is fighting on a Congress ticket. There are three 29-year-olds fighting elections – Jabna (Aam Aadmi Party) AAP, Pooja (Himachal Jan Kranti Party) and Manish (AAP) and Kishori Lal, 31, of CPI(M) from Karsog. The oldest candidate in the fray is Colonel Dhani Ram Shandil from Solan who is 82.