The Electoral Scene in Himachal as yet Appears Foggy : BJP continues to be the front-runner
Till the 1972 assembly elections, it was only the Congress party which was repeatedly voted into power in Himachal Pradesh. Till that time if a person was able to get Congress party nomination, he/she was destined to win the next 3-4 elections. It was for the first time that in 1977 the invincible Congress was dethroned and the post-emergency newly formed Janata Party swept the State scoring 53 seats in the 68-member assembly. Congress strength was reduced to just 9.
Earlier, in March 1977 elections to Parliament Congress Party lost all the four seats to Janta Party. In the 1982 assembly elections, Congress fell short of majority but was still able to form a government with the help of defectors and independents. After that, an electoral game of see-saw came into play. It has become a tradition in Himachal’s elections that if Congress is ruling this time, the next term was surely reserved for the BJP and vice versa. No ruling party has, so far, been able to bounce back to power for a successive second term in a row. This situation has made the work of psephologists much easier.
In other words, it means that whichever may be the ruling party and whatever good or bad it may have done during its reign, it is destined to lose the next election. This also implies that in the State anti-incumbency rules the roost and nothing else matters. The electorate votes for the defeat of the incumbent ruling party which results in the opposition getting a chance to form the next government. If the incumbent ruling party, come what may, has to lose power, why should it work at all to serve the people who, it knows fully well, will dethrone it in the next election? It also means that the electorate doesn’t weigh and evaluate the performance of the ruling party government and of the individual MLAs/ministers. This situation, in a way, is not conducive to the evolution of a healthy democracy.
The hunch of a sure defeat in the next election also generates a feeling of insecurity in the mind of the elected people. This inspires them to go by the well-known saying: Make hey while the sun shines. Many do follow this dictum.
Following this example has also a political and electoral advantage. If the next government lays its hands on the wrongs committed by its predecessor, it provides them an opportunity to raise a cry of “political vendetta”, an attempt at character assassination with false charges. Such acts by the ruling party also stand in good stead to the individual in the next election. A win is interpreted that the elected person has been honourably acquitted of the charges by the highest court of the people.
The electoral scenario in Himachal Pradesh continues to be foggy even now. The polling in the state is most likely to be conducted in the last week of October or first week of November before the three tribal constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi-Bharmaur get covered with a thick blanket of snow.
With elections just about 5 months away, the main opposition party, the Congress, is in disarray, mainly because of the death of six-time chief minister Shri Virbhadra Singh. It is suffering from a vacuum created by his death. To cash on the sympathy for the Congress created by Virbhadra’s death, the party high command has made his widow and two-time MP Mrs. Pratibha Singh as the Himachal Congress President. Their son, Vikramaditya Singh MLA, 33, is too young to slip into his father’s shoes. The other veteran Congress leader is Mrs. Vidya Stokes, 94, belying her age, is blessed with a good health. She is a former minister and a former speaker of Vidhan Sabha. Though she had a good rapport with Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, yet Shri Virbhadra Singh proved a great stumbler in their plans.
Another loss to the Congress has been the death of a veteran Congress leader and a former Union minister Pandit Sukh Ram who commanded a great following in Mandi and Kullu districts. Another loss to Congress has been the untimely death of Shri G. S. Bali who had a good following in the state’s largest district of Kangra with a fair amount of clout in the central leadership too. In these circumstances, projecting a chief ministerial candidate of the party for the coming state assembly elections is not going to be an easy task.
Having won Panjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal is trying to spread the party’s wings in neighbouring Himachal too. But Himachal is not Panjab. It has a very different electoral history. No political party other than Congress and BJP has been able to find its feet in this state. In the 2012 elections, the Trinamul Congress (TMC) of Ms Mamta Bannerjee did try to make a big thrust in this hilly state. She failed bitterly with all of her nominees losing their security deposits too.
The same is the fate of the late Ram Vilas’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Ms Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Because of multi-party contests — Congress, Congress rebel, BJP and BJP rebel and independents — one person won the Kangra seat as BSP candidate and one of LJP from Nahan. But soon both joined the ruling BJP.
No third party has been able to make any mark in the electoral history. BJP and Janta Dal (JD) entered into an electoral alliance in 1990 state assembly elections with BJP winning 46 seats, JD 11, and ruling Congress just 9 seats.
There was no love lost between Pandit Sukh Ram and Raja Virbhadra Singh since the latter returned to state politics in 1983 and became the chief minister. In 1993,former Prime Minister PV Narashimha Rao made him minister of state (independent charge) for Communications. During this period he worked so much in this field for the country, notably for Himachal, that he became invincible in elections in Mandi and Kullu districts.
In 1997, he fell out with late Virbhadra Singh and floated his own political party Himachal Vikas Congress. In 1998, his party contested the Himachal assembly elections and became the instrument of Congress defeat. His party held the balance of power winning 5 seats. Although late Virbhadra Singh managed to take oath as CM, yet he had to resign before proving his majority in the house.
Later, Pandit Sukh Ram again went into the Congress fold.
Maybe that AAP is able to net some Congress and BJP leaders denied tickets, but they are not likely to cut much ice. AAP is also not likely to harm BJP in a significant manner. On the other hand, it may help the ruling BJP by making a dent only in the Congress tally by making inroads into the anti-BJP votes which would have otherwise gone to Congress.
As the situation is today, the BJP government does not look to have generated an anti-incumbency vote to much extent. Yet, it has to tread very cautiously. With not much chance, both Congress and AAP may compete in offering many freebies and other promises which may be as easy to make and as easy to implement.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tried to present a good show with AAP Punjab CM Bhagwant Singh Mann in their rally at Mandi. But it proved to be a damp squib. No sooner had the CM duo left Himachal for their states, many of its senior office-holders left AAP and joined BJP. An embarrassed Kejriwal had to dissolve its Himachal State unit.
BJP has already declared that it will go to the electorate with repeating Jai Ram Thakur as its chief ministerial candidate. To take on the Congress and BJP, AAP has, so far, not been able to have a person on its rolls a political person of stature whom it could project as its chief ministerial candidate.
A party, like AAP, dreaming to strike big in elections just about five months away, a robust organisation unit is a must. It will not be easy for it to challenge the two well-established ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress without its own organisational unit. Planning to fight the election in the hope of roping those denied tickets by the BJP and the Congress may not work wonders to realize its dreams. Himachal may repeat the fate it met in Uttarakhand where it drew a blank with even its chief ministerial candidate failing to make it to the state assembly.
Whatever it may be, as the situation stands today, the ruling BJP does not face much threat from any side. But that should not make it complacent. It is not a good strategy to take one’s rival as weak and humble.
By Amba Charan Vashishth