HP voter plays cagey over his choice in poll

As the countdown for the Assembly elections comes to an end, a lot is happening over a cup of coffee at the age-old Indian Coffee House that is a minute walk from the (in)famous Scandal Point on the Ridge in the picturesque Shimla.

Bureaucrats, local party leaders and government employees throng the shop that is also a favourite rendezvous of the locals. But the taste of the aromatic coffee has gone up with the “political brew” added to it on the coffee tables. With just three days to go for the election, voters are treading cautiously before vouching their support for any party.
Therefore, a distinct wave in favour or against either the ruling BJP or the opposition Congress is missing.

The voter is silent. A situation that reminds one of the Punjab poll outcome in February this year where the voters’ mandate reversed the exit polls which predicted Congress’ victory. However, in Himachal Pradesh the mood of the voter was almost visible in past. During the 2007 elections, which the BJP won, the perception was not so fractured.

Shimla itself does not give the impression that it goes to the polls soon. Party flags, political banners and hoardings that dot parts of the lower Mall market and Lakkar Bazar fail to boost the election excitement. However, Shimla is arguably not the best constituency that reflects a voter sentiment. In fact, the constituency has lived up to its dubious reputation for dismal voter turnout. In 2007, it was just above 47 per cent and the previous polls saw lesser number of voters. Travel towards Bilaspur, Sundernagar and Mandi constituencies and the situation isn’t much different.

Real issues have taken a back seat during the campaign. But allegations of sell-off of HP land to private universities at throwaway prices, land mafia, bad roads and highways, even on hugely frequented tourist destinations, have disturbed the voters.  

The BJP regime has tried to please various sections of the public by offering sops in the last five years. But the fact still remains that since 1985, the voters of Himachal Pradesh have never re-elected a government to office. The Congress, however, cannot take bank upon this general feeling as the Punjab example is staring in its eye.

A couple of shops in the market are also selling T-shirts with pictures of Virbhadra, Dhumal and even Maheshwar Singh, a rebel senior BJP leader and who has formed a new party. There isn’t much business. But the velvet green “pahari” cap, patronised since decades as a mark of support to Virbhadra Singh, is doing brisk sale. One can only wish that it gives some idea about the voters’ mind.

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