Battle lines drawn for Himachal polls

Absence of regional parties advantage to BJP, Congress; graft to take centre stage

The political landscape in poll-bound state of Himachal Pradesh (HP) has long been dominated by the Congress and the BJP. The absence of a strong regional party like the Akali Dal in neighbouring Punjab, has worked to the advantage of both these national parties rotating power since decades.

Unlike in Gujarat, where Modi-led BJP brims with confidence returning to office every five years, the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP in HP is staring at a formidable opponent in the state Congress.

The Congress high command has yet again placed its bet on five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh to challenge Dhumal’s dream run of a third stint as chief minister. The ageing patriarch, who till recently was a Union minister is back in the saddle after staying away from state politics post 2007 debacle.

The Himachal BJP is going to polls playing the development card under the slogan
“Mission Repeat”. The saffron party stands a divided house. It’s the first time in the state the party cadre have split to form a new political party, Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), with former BJP president and MLA Maheshwar Singh at the helm. Both the Congress and the BJP have dozens of rebel candidates in fray. What’s left the BJP edgy is the fact that the new party has entered into a seat sharing pact with the CPI and the CPM.

Political experts are unwilling to discount the BSP’s strides in the hill state which accounts for nearly 25 per cent of schedule caste population. Mayawati’s party may not win many seats in the ensueing elections, however, the BSP’s gain in terms of percentage of votes will cut into both the national parties.

Sample this, in the 2003 assembly elections, the BSP polled less than 1 per cent of the total votes. Five years later in 2007, orchestrating its social engineering formula, the BSP not only won its first seat in HP but also got over 7 per cent of the total votes. This time, Mamata’s TMC will be entering the fray.

Corruption

As election fever warms up the cold climate in HP and poll issues remain largely localised, the Congress and BJP are increasingly indulging in a corruption slugfest of sorts. The Congress has much to explain, the BJP says.

Virbhadra Singh had to quit as Union minister recently after charges were framed against him in the infamous CD case involving Singh, his wife and former MP and a bureaucrat in a dialogue over alleged financial transactions.Weeks after he resigned posturing a high moral ground, it was time for his coronation as the state party chief. He is arguable the CM-in-waiting if his party wins but the party remains cautious over announcing the same. Singh, an erstwhile royal, again courted controversy in the steel ministry’s alleged kickbacks row.

The BJP has its own share of corruption taint to grapple with. It has fielded former MP Suresh Chandel who figured in the cash-for-query sting operation. Many other BJP leaders are battling corruption charges.

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