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November 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       November 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017


Congress and BJP in a lively battle

Rakesh Lohumi

The political temperature is at its peak in the cool climes of Himachal Pradesh which is witnessing a lively electoral battle between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP, the two main contenders for power, once again.

The going has been always tough for the ruling party in the hill state where anti-incumbency plays a decisive role in Assembly elections. The politically aware electorate has been invariably voting out the government of the day and as a result no party has managed to retain power since 1985.The scenario is no different this time and the Congress faces an uphill task in the battle of ballot scheduled for November 9.
With no mass leader to match the popularity of six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh the Congress high command has decided to go to polls under his leadership despite strong opposition from Pradesh Congress Chief Sukhvinder Singh, Transport Minister G.S.Bali, veteran leader from Kangra Vijay Singh Mankotia and some other leaders. The BJP has decided not to project any leader and it is solely banking on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for winning the elections.
Desperate for a win in an otherwise dismal national political scenario, the Congress has pursued dynastic politics to the hilt, granting tickets to the kins of many senior leaders. The high command also gave a go by to its norm of one family one ticket in the process. State youth congress chief and son of Virbhadra Singh, who has been granted ticket from the Shimla (Rural) constituency, tops the list of dynastic candidates. Virbhadra Singh, who won the seat in 2012, has shifted to adjoining Arki segment in the Solan district. He has, thus, paved way for his son's entry into electoral politics. In Mandi district, Champa Thakur, daughter of Health Minister Kaul Singh, has been given ticket from the Mandi seat in place of Anil Sharma, son of veteran leader Sukh Ram who crossed over to the BJP on the eve of polls. Ashish Butail, son of Speaker B.B.Butail, is contesting from Palampur and Vivek Sharma, son of ex-Deputy Speaker Ramnath Sharma, has been fielded from Kutlehar. Senior leader Chander Kumar is back in the Jawali constituency which his son Neeraj Bharati won in 2012.The Congress high command has been able to forge unity by accommodating the supporters of the warring leaders in ticket distribution and declaring Virbhadra Singh as the leader. The BJP has continued with its strategy of taking Congress leaders with good electoral prospects into its fold to ensure success in key constituencies. Its biggest catch has been Anil Sharma who was the Rural Development Minister in the Virbhadra Singh Cabinet. Other Congress leaders who have been granted BJP ticket are Pawan Nayar from the Chamba seat, Pramod Sharma from Shimla (Rural) and Vijay Jyoti Sen from Kusumpti. The party has denied tickets to four sitting MLAs and some other who unsuccessfully contested the last assembly poll. Rikhi Ram Kaundal, a former minister has been denied ticket from Jhanduta, B.K.Chauhan from Chamba, Gobind Sharma from Arki and Anil Dhiman from Bhoranj. In all, there are 21 new faces among the nominees.
More importantly, the BJP high command has shifted former chief minister and leader of opposition from Hamirpur to Sujanpur constituency and denied ticket to Shanta Kumar loyalist Praveen Sharma from the Palampur constituency sending a clear signal that the party is supreme. The denial of tickets to prominent aspirants has triggered revolt in both the parties and efforts are on to quell discontent in the cadres. Shanta

Anil Sharma Kumar had openly expressed his anguish and the high command sent Union Health Minister, who is among the front runners for the coveted post of chief minister, to pacify him. The BJP has involved prominent leaders who have been denied tickets in various panels set up for election management.
The state has been in the election mode for the past one year and the Congress government in the state and the BJP-led government at the Centre have been busy announcing benefits and launching various new schemes and projects in the state to woo the electorate.
Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi has himself addressed three massive rallies at Mandi, Shimla and Bilaspur in recent months. The last rally at Bilaspur, during which he laid foundation stone of PGIMER and two other projects, was held days before declaration of election. Earlier he had launched the Udan scheme to promote low cost air travel from Shimla. In between Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, announced upgradation of 61 roads to national highways which will increase the length of highways almost three-fold from 2002 km in 2014 to 5900 km.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has been busy inaugurating projects, laying foundation stones, announcing opening of schools, colleges and other institutions for the last almost two years. He even declared Dharamsala as the second capital to win over the people of the Kangra , the biggest and politically most significant region of the state.
A number of other populist decisions like grant of unemployment allowance to educated youth and regularisation of illegal structures and encroachments, which make a mockery of governance, will have far reaching consequences for financial health and safety of the people in the earthquake prone hill state. The BJP has been making such illegal demands a political issue to please the electorate and a clever politician Virbhadra Singh disarmed it by promptly implementing these.

Shanta Kumar As in the last assembly poll, the BJP has made corruption charges against Virbhadra Singh and his family as the main poll plank. Prime Minster Modi himself hit out at the chief minister at a public rally by stating that in Himachal the government was on bail. The arrest of Tilak Raj, an officer of he Industries department in a bribe case, has provided ammunition to the BJP to attack the Congress. The party is also accusing Congress of gross financial mismanagement which has landed the estate into a debt trap with outstanding loans touching Rs 50,000 crore. A number of heinous crimes in quick succession like the Kotkhai rape and murder case, the gruesome killing of a forest guard Hoshiar Singh in Karsog and daring daylight shooting of youth in Solan have enabled it to mount a pointed attack on the deteriorating law and order situation.

The denial of tickets to prominent aspirants has triggered revolt in both the parties and efforts are on to quell discontent in the cadres. Shanta Kumar had openly expressed his anguish and the high command sent Union Health Minister, who is among the front runners for the coveted post of chief minister, to pacify him. The BJP has involved prominent leaders, who have been denied tickets, in various panels set up for election management.

The controversial demonetization exercise and implementation of GST have provided potent issues to the beleaguered Congress which had been at the receiving end all through. The BJP was riding high on the Modi wave but there had been a discernible change in the public sentiments in recent months mainly because of hardships caused by these two decisions. The BJP has lost the high moral ground on issue of corruption by taking the son of convicted Sukh Ram into the party-fold. The party has lost some edge on these counts on the eve run up to election and the contest is no longer a one-sided affair as it appeared until recently.
However, keeping in view the past trends the odds are stacked against the Congress and it will be a Herculean task for it to stop the Modi Juggernaut. It also lacks requisite resources and a well-oiled election machinery to match the BJP for effective campaigning. The BJP is already in damage control mode and talk of further relaxing the GST norms and slabs is on.
Currently, there are 67 MLAs, Congress (35), BJP (28) and Independents (4), in the 68-member Vidhan Sabha. The Congress won in 1985, 1993, 2003 and 2012, while the