As the winter sets in Himachal Pradesh, the political temperature continues to soar as the election campaign reaches its crescendo. It is an electrified atmosphere where people have stood witness to a plethora of poll sops and welfare measures, ably sugar-coated by wordsmiths cutting across party lines. As around 56 lakh voters of Himachal Pradesh gear up to vote for the 68 assembly seats on Saturday, political parties — especially BJP and Congress — are leaving no stone unturned in the race to woo voters.
The past few days alone have seen political bigwigs including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, AICC general secretary Priyanka Ghandhi Vadra and newly elected Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge make a beeline to drum up support for their parties. Although the hill state has a history of alternating between the Congress and the BJP in every assembly election since 1982, pre-poll surveys so far have largely sided with the ruling BJP. The groundswell, however, suggests that a close contest is on the cards.
The BJP blitzkrieg
An avalanche of campaigns by BJP stalwarts, including PM Modi’s frequent visits, has definitely made a difference for the BJP, which, until less than a year ago, was battling internal problems and a loss of face with frequent leadership changes. In his all visits, including the one on Wednesday, PM Modi has vociferously stressed that Himachal Pradesh needs a stable and strong ‘double engine’ government while making sure that he does not miss to mention the BJP’s “development agenda” for the state during his speeches.
The Modi charisma laced with the development factor potentially has a heady impact on voters, particularly the youth, feel experts. The young generation takes it seriously when a leader speaks of industrialisation, development and vision for the state, an expert said.
The Prime Minister recently launched multi-crore development projects related to pharmaceuticals, education, railways and rural roads, saying these will have a positive impact on Himachal Pradesh’s progress.
The ‘Modi’ factor
The poll strategy of the BJP, which has carved its image of good governance and pro-poor policies, has always aimed at connecting with people by minglinging with their local culture and talking about emotive matters. Modi became the first Prime Minister to pay obeisance to Kullu Valley`s chief deity Lord Raghunath in the Dussehra festivities in Kullu town amidst the presence of nearly 300 deities.
During his address to responsive crowds, Home Minister Amit Shah, seeking votes in the name of PM Modi, said: “We often say that Gujarat is Modi ji’s ‘janam-bhoomi’ but Himachal is his ‘karam-bhoomi’. His heart lives here.”
The BJP is also likely to reap huge political dividend from granting tribal status to the Hatti community, a population of 2.51 lakh living in the trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district that could swing the poll mood in favour of the saffron party. The community had been making this demand since 1967.
BJP’s tightrope walk
Despite a seemingly favourable wave in favour of the BJP, the promise of freebies by the Congress and AAP, appears to have forced the BJP’s hand to bank on generous offers to voters to counter its opponents. The party has promised in its ‘Sankalp Patra’ for Himachal Pradesh to provide bicycles to girl students from classes 6-12 while those pursuing higher education will get Scootys if it returns to power. The party also promised free LPG cylinders for women in BPL families and Rs 25,000 for pregnant women, among other measures.
Despite the BJP terming these promises as welfare measures, and not freebies, the promises tend to defy PM Modi’s take on “revdi culture” that he has accused Opposition parties of promoting. The measure shows that despite a principled stand against freebies, the BJP was not willing to leave anything to chance to ensure that the tide remains in its favour.
The Congress conundrum
The Congress, which appears to have struggled to raise its voice on key issues to put the Jairam Thakur-led Himachal government in the dock over corruption, deteriorating law and order situation, rising debt, an education scam of selling more than 45,000 fake degrees and the constable recruitment question paper leak, is banking on poll promises and anti-incumbency to do the trick for them.
Congress state unit chief Pratibha Singh is leading the campaign by banking on its promise to bring back the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) that will benefit 2,25,000 employees, a crucial vote bank.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has distanced himself from the campaign in Himachal as he is spearheads the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. So, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken all responsibilities for the poll campaign in the hill state. She has tried to connect with voters by playing an emotional card by describing herself as the daughter of Himachal. In a bid to woo Hindu voters, Priyanka Gandhi is said to be visiting temples and offering prayers to different gods. However, Congress leaders’ temple visits have hardly brought any poll fortunes in the past.
This apart, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and party prominent face Sachin Pilot have put their weight behind the Congress poll campaign. Though Congress leaders have left no stone unturned to show the BJP government in poor light, it is still unclear if the electorate will vote as per the convention and elect an alternate government this time around.
Vox Populi Of Opinion Polls
Opinion poll surveys, on their part, have painted a rosy picture for the BJP, predicting the saffron party’s return to power in Himachal Pradesh with a landslide victory. According to the weekly ABP news-C Voter survey 2022,
47 per cent of the respondents were in favour of a BJP victory. As per India TV-Matrize Opinion polls, BJP could bag 46 per cent votes in the Himachal Pradesh assembly polls. The India TV-Matrize survey predicts BJP getting elected once again with 41 assembly seats. The BJP had won 44 seats last time.