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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Battleground Himachal

Ticket allotment could hold the key to the parties chances in the forthcoming elections as the disgruntled sections in both the BJP and Congress could play spoil sport. With the top national leaders making a beeline for Himachal in an attempt to woo the voters, the State is clearly in election mode.

The BJP’s president visit to the State where he addressed a rally in the crucial district of Kangra was followed by the Prime Minister’s visit to Himachal in J P Nadda’s home district. Not to be left behind, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visited Himachal addressing a rally in Mandi, and on expected lines reposed full faith in Virbhadra Singh to lead the party at the hustings while continuing with Sukhu as the party President much to the chagrin of the Chief Minister.

The octogenarian CM is fighting the last, and probably the most important, election in the twilight of his political career as he attempts to take on his political detractors within the party apart from the BJP. The CM, who is out on bail in a disproportionate asset case – which has been made as the main election plank by the opposition, has his back to the wall and is leaving no stone unturned to woo the electorate.

Virbhadra has been in a similar situation in 2012 and had emerged victorious then, annihilating his opponents within and outside the party; but this time, the might of the BJP including the Prime Minister and Amit Shah have cornered him on the disproportionate assets case where he has only been granted bail by the Delhi High Court.

It remains to be seen if the people of Himachal will give a record seventh term to the incumbent chief Minister, or make him bite the dust in his last show at the hustings. As of now, there is only one man standing between BJP and victory, and that is Virbhadra.

The former can draw strength from the fact that since 1993 neither BJP nor Congress  has managed to win successive elections and the anti-incumbency factor has been dominant in all elections since 1993; by that equation, BJP is set to regain power in the hill state.

However all is not hunky dory within the BJP and two power centres, one headed by former CM Dhumal and the other under his former cabinet colleague and now the Union Health Minister J P Nadda, have clearly emerged within the State.

In 2012, in a similar power struggle between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar (also a former CM and current BJP Vice-President and MP from Kangra), the BJP was mauled in the biggest district of Kangra, a region  which has inevitably decided the fate of the two parties.

Ticket allotment will again play a crucial role in the party’s fortunes, particularly in Kangra which has 15 of the total 68 constituencies in the State, and it remains to be seen if candidates who are denied tickets will muster the courage to file nominations in defiance of a stronger party leadership as compared to 2012.

The allotment of tickets will also provide an insight into who is calling the shots in the party, and also the likely next CM, in the eventuality of BJP winning the election.

While Virbhadra is the clear choice of the Congress High Command in the run up to the election, the BJP central leadership has not announced its CM candidate, and is unlikely to do so before the elections. Many are touting this election as a battle between Virbhadra and Prime Minister Modi.

While a win will catapult Raja sahab – as Virbhadra is fondly called by his supporters – to new political heights at the fag end of his long political career, a loss will provide the much needed ammunition to his political opponents within the party to seek revenge and consign him and his son to the sidelines in state politics.

On the other side of the political pendulum, Mr. P K Dhumal, a two time former CM and a popular man with the masses is in the fray for the CMs chair, but faces stiff competition from his former cabinet colleague and current Union health minister J P Nadda.

In the event of Nadda being nominated for the CM’s post – if the BJP gets a majority – it would be interesting to see Dhumal’s reaction and response, and whether he will pull a Virbhadra and stage a rebellion. Though this scenario seems highly unlikely, the BJP central leadership (in the event of BJP coming to power) could give the septuagenarian former CM a small stint at the helm before J P Nadda finally takes charge.

As this tiny hill state braces up for the winter season ahead, the political heat has just been turned on.

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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