Congress regains lost ground in HP
The Congress avenged the drubbing in Gujarat by trouncing the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh. It romped home with 36 seats as against BJP’s 26. The party managed an absolute majority in a 68-member House.
Five seats went to independent candidates while Himachal Lokhit Party president Maheswar Singh, who quit the BJP to float the outfit, won the only seat for his party. In the previous Assembly elections in 2007, the Congress had won 23 seats and the BJP 41.
The voters in Himachal Pradesh stayed true to their anti-incumbency sentiments, as has been the case for the last three decades. The Congress’ unrelenting faith in septuagenarian Virbhadra Singh paid off well. Singh, a five-time chief minister, stayed out of active state politics after the BJP came to power in the state in 2007. He was brought in at the last minute to lead the campaign.
It now remains to be seen whether Singh, who won from Shimla (rural) by over 20,000 votes, assumes charge as the chief minister for the sixth time, despite corruption charges against him.
Rebels, internal wrangling and faulty distribution of party tickets apparently ruined the BJP’s winning chances. Four of the five independent candidates who won the election this time were former BJP men, while one defected from the Congress. Around 42 per cent of votes were polled in Congress’ favour and the BJP managed 39 per cent, while the independents, BSP, CPI, CPM and HLP scrambled for the rest, reports suggested.
Conceding defeat, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said: “I wish the Congress good luck. We need to analyse what went wrong.” Dhumal won from Hamirpur by 9,302 votes.
The election result proved that the BJP’s campaign, entirely focussed on “wrongdoings” of the UPA government at the Centre - price rise, inflation, cap on domestic LPG cylinders - and corruption charges against Virbhadra Singh, did not cut much ice with the electorate.
Kangra, the largest segment of the state that held the key to power with 15 seats, slipped out of the BJP’s grip, with the party winning only three seats in the region as against nine in the previous election.
The state unit of the Congress, which had its share of internal squabbling, now faces the tough task of appointing a chief minister. Virbhadra Singh is being viewed as a natural choice after steering the party to victory. However, his candidature is opposed by senior leaders like Kaul Singh Thakur. Besides, the octogenarian Vidya Stokes also nurtures chief ministerial ambitions.
“I had been tasked with bringing the party back to power, for which I had put in my best efforts. It is for Sonia Gandhi to decide who will become the chief minister,” Singh said.
Big losers and winners
The election results sprang up a few surprises. Senior leaders Virbhadra Singh, P K Dhumal, Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh Thakur, Asha Kumari, Mukesh Agnihotri, Satpal Sati won, while Virbhadra’s bête noire, Major (retd) Vijay Singh Mankotia of the Congress, lost. Mankotia and Singh had filed cases against each other. Former Assembly speaker and minister G R Musafir of the Congress also lost.