A keen four-cornered contest is in the offing in the prestigious Shimla (Urban) constituency where three-time BJP MLA Suresh Bharadwaj is fighting a tough battle to retain his seat. Bharadwaj will be taking on Harbhajan Singh Bhajji of the Congress, former mayor of the Shimla Municipal Corporation Sanjay Chauhan of the CPI(M), and Congress rebel Harish Janartha who is contesting as an independent. While a section of the BJP is not happy with the allocation of ticket to Bharadwaj, a large number of Congress leaders including SMC councillors have openly come out in support of Janartha, a staunch loyalist of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, making the Congress candidate jittery. The BJP, which has got control over the municipal corporation for the first time in the past 31 years, is upbeat and hopes to win comfortably but with three other strong candidates in the fray, the going is not easy. Janartha had in 2012 contested from Shimla as Congress candidate and lost by a slender margin of 628 votes while the CPI(M) candidate had polled 8,050 votes. Shimla was part of Punjab till November 1966 and Daulat Ram Chauhan of Bhartiya Jan Sangh, who was elected for the first time in 1967, retained the seat in 1972, 1977 and 1982. Congress’s Bhajji wrested the seat in 1985 midterm polls. Bharadwaj won the seat in 1990, while Rakesh Singha of the CPI(M) created history by winning the seat in 1993 and ever since the party has a strong presence in the constituency.
Singha’s election was set aside after he was convicted in a murder case. Adarsh Sood of the Congress won the following by-election and Narinder Bragara of the BJP wrested the seat in 1998. Bhajji was elected again in 2003. The seat was won by Bharadwaj in 2007 and 2012 and he is eyeing a hat-trick. The Congress is claiming credit for getting smart city tag for Shimla but issues like outbreak of jaundice which claimed more than two dozen lives, water shortage, high water and sewerage rates and poor condition of roads is weighing heavily against the ruling party. Bharadwaj was a Rajya Sabha member from 2002 to 08 and has been the state BJP chief. Janartha is seeking votes in the name chief minister, while Bhajji is banking on the strength of the organization and his own contacts. Bhajji has an advantage that GST is a major issue in Shimla and he is the only candidate from lower area while the strong contenders are from the upper Shimla region. The echoes of the recent Gudiya rape and murder case rattled Shimla also and the brutal murder of a four-year-old is imprinted on the minds of the people.
Shimla is one of the only constituency where the literacy rate is touches 100 per cent. It is known as the town of “babus” with a very large number of employees in government, semi government and organised sectors. The Congress has announced a package of sops for employees and workers including restoration of the pre-2004 pension scheme, a major demand of employees. Environment is a major problem in Shimla but none of the parties has raised the issue. On the contrary, they are batting for regularisation of illegal construction, which would pose a grave threat to environment and ecology and safety of the people. The BJP is claiming that it would be back in power and the state government would get funds from the Centre under the Smart City project.