The hill state of Himachal Pradesh goes to polls tomorrow with traditional rivals, the Congress and the BJP locking horns in all 68 constituencies where 337 candidates including 62 MLAs are in the fray. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 10 ministers, eight Chief Parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers are among those who have thrown their hat in the ring. The ruling Congress led by the chief minister and the BJP led with former chief minister Dhumal are contesting all 68 seats while the BSP is contesting 42 seats, followed by the CPI(M) 14, Swabhiman Party and Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI-3. The 12-days high-voltage campaign, which came to an end yesterday, saw over 450 rallies by star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress including Prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah who addressed seven and six rallies respectively. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addressed three rallies. Corruption was the main focus of the BJP campaign with the party training its guns at Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, while the Congress hit out at the BJP over the issue of GST and demonetisation. There is straight contest only in one constituency (Jhanduta) while the maximum number of 12 candidates is in fray in Dharamsala. The BJP has fielded four Congressmen including former minister Anil Sharma and given ticket to on Independent from Chopal while Congress had fielded two independents from Paonta Sahib and Kangra. Both Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal have shifted their constituencies and are contesting from Arki and Sujanpur. Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mansa Ram, who was elected for the first time in 1967 from Karsog(SC), is in the fray for eleventh time. There are 19 women in the fray including six fielded by the BJP and three by the Congress while seven rebels each of BJP and Congress are also contesting the polls.
At present, the Congress and the BJP have 35 and 28 MLAs respectively in the 68-member House besides four independents while one seat is vacant. Over 180 independents and a dozen rebels of the Congress including former ministers Singhi Ram (Rampur) and Vijay Singh Mankotia (Shahpur) are in the fray. A total of 50,25,941 voters are eligible to cast their vote. As many as 7,525 polling booths have been set up in the state and 37,605 polling personnel have been deputed for poll duty. Besides 17,850 personnel of police and Home Guards and 65 companies of central paramilitary force have been deployed, Chief Electoral Officer Pushpender Rajput said. Elaborate arrangements have been made for ensuring free and fair polls and 29 general, three police, 22 Expenditure Observers and 71 Assistant Expenditure Observers, 1,561 Micro Observers, besides, 193 Sector Magistrate and 789 Sectors officers have also been deployed throughout the state. Web-casting would be used in 2,307 polling stations in the state for live monitoring of polling activities in the state by ECI and polling would be held from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, the CEO said. He said the state has 100 per cent Photo Identity Card (EPIC) holders and 7525 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) are being used. VVPAT machines are being used for the first time in this Vidhan Sabha Election and 10 per cent of total EVMs and VVPATs have been kept in reserve. The Election Commission has also allowed the electors to cast their vote by producing any one document out of the 12 identity documents. He said 983 polling stations had been declared vulnerable and 399 as critical to ensure free and fair elections in the State. The maximum numbers of vulnerable polling stations are 297 in Kangra district and minimum two in Kinnaur district, he added. He said the Hikkim polling station in Lahaul and Spiti Assembly Constituency, which is situated at a maximum height of 14567 feet, has 194 voters while Ka polling booth in Kinnaur has minimum of six voters. Till the 1967 assembly polls, the Congress had a monopoly and barring splinter parties which won two or three seats, Independents filled the gap of opposition. After merger of Punjab hill areas in November 1966, the assembly polls were held in 1967 and the Congress won 34 out of 60 seats and the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, for the first time won seven seats. Two seats were bagged by CPI, one by Swatantra Party while independents recorded victory on 16 seats. However, in the 1972 assembly polls, held close on the heels of the Indo-Pak war, the Congress bounced back to power, winning 53 out of 68 seats while the Jan Sangh won five seats and Independent bagged seven seats. The Congress and the Jan Sangh polled 53.54 and 7.75 per cent votes while Independents cornered 28.27 per cent votes. The Congress fortress was finally demolished by the Janata wave in 1977, leding to emergence of a two-party system as the Janata Party and the Congress polled 57.19 and 38.38 per cent votes, respectively and won 53 seats and nine seats. The CPM and the CPI together secured only about two per cent votes. The Congress staged a comeback in the 1980 Lok Sabha poll, winning all four seats with 52.88 per cent votes as against 36.38 per cent polled by the Janata Party.
The split in the Janata Party led to the emergence of the BJP as the main opposition in the state. It won 29 seats with 35.15 per cent of votes, while the Congress only got 31 seats despite a vote share of 42.52 per cent and failed to get a clear majority. The Janata Party, the CPI and the CPM accounted for eight per cent of votes. Riding on the sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress swept the 1984 Lok Sabha elections winning all four seats with a record 67.58 per cent votes. The BJP’s percentage dropped to 23.27. Sensing the mood of the people, the then Congress government went for snap polls, winning 58 out of the total 68 seats while the strength of the BJP was reduced to seven. However in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won three out of four seats and in the ensuing assembly polls in 1990, the BJP entered into an alliance with Janata Dal and the combination won 58 seats( BJP-47, JD-11) while the Congress got nine seats. The BJP and the Congress polled 41.77 and 37.35 per cent votes while the JD, which contested 17 seats got 10.82 per cent votes. In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the two parties shared the two seats each even though the Congress polled 46.16 per cent votes, about 3.5 per cent more than the BJP.
The Congress returned to power with a bang in 1993, winning 54 seats. The BJP won only eight and its vote share declined to 36.18 per cent while the Congress polled 49.36 per cent votes. The Congress won all four Lok Sabha seats in the 1996 elections, improving its vote percentage to 54.33 while BJP polled 39.62 per cent votes. The emergence of the Himachal Vikas Congress, a breakaway faction of the Congress in the 1998 assembly polls, severely dented the Congress vote bank polling 9.63 per cent votes against 43.51 and 39.09 per cent votes polled by the Congress and the BJP a new dimension to the political scene in 1998. The HVC won only five seats, but led to defeat of the Congress in another 14 seats. The Congress and the BJP won 31 seats each and the BJP formed a coalition government with HVC. Ahead of the 2003 assembly polls, the BJP and HVC parted ways and the Congress won 43 seats with 41 per votes while the BJP got 16 seats with vote share of 35.38 per cent and HVC was decimated getting one seat with 5.87 per cent votes. The BJP won majority on its own in the 2007 assembly polls for the first time and won 41 seats while the Congress won 23 seats and BSP and Independents three and one seat respectively. The BJP and the Congress polled 43.78 and 39.54 per cent votes. Ahead of the 2012 polls, BJP dissidents floated the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) which won only one seat but cornered 4.52 per cent votes. The Congress and the BJP won 36 and 26 seats polling 43.21 and 38.83 per cent votes. Independents candidates polled 15.87 votes and five independents were elected. This time there is no third force and as Congress and the BJP have been returning to power alternately since 1985, the BJP is claiming that it is their turn to stage a comeback.