Monday, August 15, 2022


ELECTION SCENE IN HIMACHAL Congress in Disarray, AAP Day-Dreaming RULING BJP SITTING PRETTY By Amba Charan Vashishth Till the 1972 assembly elections, it was only the Congress party which was repeatedly voted into power in Himachal Pradesh. Till that time if a person was able to get Congress party nomination, he/she was destined to win the next 3-4 elections. It was for the first time that in 1977 the invincible Congress was dethroned and the post-emergency newly formed Janata Party swept the State scoring 53 seats in the 68-member assembly. Congress strength was reduced to just 9. Earlier, in March 1977 elections to Parliament Congress Party lost in all the four seats to Janta Party. In the 1982 assembly elections, Congress fell short of the majority but was still able to form a government with the help of defectors and independents. After that, an electoral game of see-saw came into play. It has become a tradition in Himachal’s elections that if Congress is ruling this time, the next term was surely reserved for the BJP and vice versa. No ruling party has, so far, been able to bounce back to power for a successive second term in a row. This situation has made the work of psephologists much easier. In other words, it means that whichever may be the ruling party and whatever good or bad it may have done during its reign, it is destined to lose the next election. This also implies that in the State anti-incumbency rules the roost and nothing else matters. The electorate votes for the defeat of the incumbent ruling party which results in the opposition getting a chance to form the next government. If the incumbent ruling party, come what may, has to lose power, why should it work at all to serve the people who, it knows fully well, will dethrone it in the next election? It also means that the electorate doesn’t weigh and evaluate the performance of the ruling party government and of the individual MLAs/ministers. This situation, in a way, is not conducive to the evolution of a healthy democracy. The hunch of a sure defeat in the next election also generates a feeling of insecurity in the mind of the elected people. This inspires them to go by the well-known saying: Make hay while the sun shines. Many do follow this dictum. Following this example has also a political and electoral advantage. If the next government lays its hands on the wrongs committed by its predecessor, it provides them an opportunity to raise a hue and cry of “political vendetta”, an attempt at character assassination with false charges. Such acts by the ruling party also stand in good stead to the individual in the next election. A win in the election is interpreted as an honourable acquittal of the charges by the highest court of the people. The electoral scenario in Himachal Pradesh continues to be foggy at this time. The polling in the state is most likely to be conducted in the last week of October or the first week of November before the three tribal constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi-Bharmaur get covered with a thick blanket of snow. With elections just about 3 months away, the main opposition party, the Congress, is in disarray, because of deaths in recent months of three of its stalwarts and contenders for chief ministership. On the top is the passing away of six-time chief minister Shri Virbhadra Singh who had proved to be the unchallenged leader of the State in Congress Party since 1983. The party has yet to come out of a vacuum of leadership left by his death. In an effort to cash in the sympathy for the Congress generated by Virbhadra’s death, the party high command has nominated his widow and two-time MP Mrs. Pratibha Singh as the Himachal Congress President. Their son, Vikramaditya Singh MLA, 33, is too young to slip into his father’s shoes. The other veteran Congress leader worth reckoning is Mrs. Vidya Stokes, 94, belying her age, is blessed with a good health. She is a former minister and a former speaker of Vidhan Sabha. Though she had a good rapport with Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, yet Shri Virbhadra Singh proved a great stumbler in their plans to make her CM. Another loss to the Congress has been the demise of a veteran Congress leader and a former Union minister Pandit Sukh Ram who commanded a great following in Mandi and Kullu districts. The untimely death of former Minister Shri G. S. Bali about six months back is another setback to the party, in particular to the lower regions of the State, like Kangra, Hamirpur, Kullu, Una, Bilaspur etc. where he could command a good support. He also had a fair amount of clout in the central leadership of Congress too. Had he been alive he would have emerged as a great challenger for leadership of the Congress for the Vidhan Sabha elections. In these circumstances, projecting a chief ministerial candidate of the Congress party for the coming state assembly elections is not going to be an easy task. There was no love lost between Pandit Sukh Ram and Raja Virbhadra Singh, both Congress stalwarts since the Raja returned to state politics in 1983 and became the chief minister. In 1993, former Prime Minister PV Narashimha Rao made Sukh Ram minister of state (independent charge) for Communications. During this period, he worked so much in this field for the country, notably for Himachal, that he became invincible in elections in Mandi and Kullu districts. In 1997, Pandit Sukh Ram fell out with Virbhadra Singh and floated his own political party Himachal Vikas Congress. In 1998, his party contested the Himachal assembly elections as a third force and became the instrument of Congress defeat. His party held the balance of power winning 5 seats. Although late Virbhadra Singh managed to take oath as CM, yet he had to resign before proving his majority in the house. BJP under the leadership of Shri Prem Kumar Dhumal formed a government in alliance with Pandikt Sukh Ram’s party. Later, Pandit Sukh Ram again went back to the Congress fold. Himachal Pradesh has a very different electoral history. No political party, other than Congress and BJP, has been able to find its feet in this state. In the 2012 elections, the Trinamul Congress (TMC) of Ms Mamta Bannerjee did try to make a big thrust in this hilly state. She failed bitterly; all of her nominees lost their security deposits even. The same was the fate of the late Ram Vilas’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Ms Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Because of multi-party contests — Congress, Congress rebel, BJP and BJP rebel, and independents — one person won the Kangra seat as a BSP candidate and one of LJP from Nahan. But soon both joined the ruling BJP obliterating their existence in the State. Because of BJP helping Janta Dal (JD) in its government headed by late VP Singh at the Centre, BJP and JD entered into an electoral alliance to contest elections to the 68-member state assembly in 1990. As a result, BJP won 46 seats, JD 11, and the then ruling Congress just 9 seats. Having won Panjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal is toying with the idea to spread the party’s wings in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh too. But Himachal is not Panjab. During the last five years, it has failed to bring up a formidable party structure in the state. It has swung into action only recently. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tried to present a good show with AAP Punjab CM Bhagwant Singh Mann in their rally at Mandi. But it proved to be a damp squib. No sooner had the CM duo left Himachal for their states, most of its senior office-holders left the AAP and joined BJP. An embarrassed Kejriwal dissolved its Himachal State unit. The party’s hope lies only in those who are denied tickets by Congress or BJP. It will be too willing to embrace them as its candidates. These tactics are hardly likely to prop it up into a party with an absolute majority, as is it dreaming. Its oft-repeated freebies of power and water and promise of doles to women and unemployed youth are hardly likely to cut much ice in the state. These failed to shower good luck to it in the recent Uttarakhand, Goa, and UP elections. AAP nominees are also not likely to cut much ice. Whatever votes they get are not likely to harm BJP in a significant manner. On the contrary, it may end up harming only the Congress because it will result only in dividing the anti-BJP vote which, otherwise, was to go to Congress alone. As the situation stands today, the BJP government does not look to have generated an anti-incumbency vote as much as to cost it power. Yet, it has to tread very cautiously. With not much chance, both Congress and AAP may compete in offering many freebies and other promises which may be as easy to make but as difficult to implement. BJP has already declared that it will go to the polls with Jai Ram Thakur as its chief ministerial candidate. To take on the Congress and BJP, AAP has, so far, not been able to have a political biggie of weightier stature who could take on the incumbent BJP CM Thakur or any Congress nominee as its chief ministerial candidate. For a party, like AAP, dreaming to strike big in elections just about three months away, a robust organisational unit is a must. It will not be easy for it to challenge the two well-established ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress without its own organisational unit. Planning to fight the election pinning on the hope of roping in those denied tickets by the BJP and the Congress may not work wonders to realize its dreams. Himachal may repeat the fate AAP met in Uttarakhand where it drew a blank with even its chief ministerial candidate failing to make it to the state assembly. Whatever it may be, as the situation stands today, the ruling BJP does not face much threat from any side. But that should not make it complacent. It is not a good strategy to take one’s rival as weak and humble. ***

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