Himachal to vote next month: a look at the big players and what's at stake
With the Election Commission of India (ECI) announcing 9 November as the date of polling for the Himachal Pradesh state assembly elections, the race is on for what is expected to be a high-pitched electoral battle. The results to the polls will be declared on 18 December.
The last date for filing nominations is 23 October 23. Scrutiny will be done on 24 October and the last date of withdrawal of nomination is 26 October 26. The notification for the polls would be issued on 16 October.
At present, there are more than 49 lakh registered voters in this hill state in 68 constituencies spread over 12 districts. Women account for 24.07 lakh voters, while the strength of male voters in the state is 24.98 lakh. The process for preparing the final electoral rolls is in its last stages. At present, there are 40,567 first-time voters between the age group of 18 years to 19 years on the electoral roll while there are 1.25 lakh new voters who have been registered.
While the rolls were updated the ECI found names of 47,523 people who have died over the last five years. The polling will be held 7521 polling stations.
Sulah assembly constituency in Kangra district has the highest number of voters with their number pegged at 92,753, while Spiti constituency has the lowest number at 22,849 voters.
Battle lines drawn
The main contest is going to be between traditional political rivals the Congress and BJP, with the Left also throwing its hat in the ring on more than a dozen seats.
The Congress goes into the battle under the leadership of the old war horse Virbhadra Singh. It was only last week that Rahul Gandhi announced that Virbhadra would be leading the charge for the grand old party.
The party carries the baggage of anti incumbency coupled with Virbhadra and his family facing charges of disproportionate assets. The party candidates will also have to do a lot explaining on the high-profile cases of law and order that put it on the back foot in the recent months. These include the rape and murder of a school girl in Kotkhai area of Shimla and the alleged killing of a forest guard by the timber mafia in Mandi.
But the party's poll plank will be development. Over the last few months, Virbhadra has been raining sops on almost every constituent of the society. The opening of a number of colleges and other educational institutions has got a lot of support for the party. Interventions in the social sector will also be a vote catching plank. The party looks to cash in on the failures of the Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, particularly the fiasco of demonetisation and the improper implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST)
The BJP, on the other hand, goes into the battle with a slight edge coming from the tradition of Himachalis election the two main political forces alternatively. Deviating from the norm, the party will launch its electoral battle in a headless manner with there being no chef ministerial face projected.
While continuing with the strategy adopted in the recent Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh polls, the party has decided to approach the electorate in the name of Modi. It will be playing up Modi's personal connect with the hill state where he has worked as both a RSS and a senior BJP functionary in the past. It will also try to cash the various projects that the centre has announced and initiated in this state.
But its biggest worry at this point of time is the waning of the 'Modi wave' across the country. The people are questioning the decisions of the central government and their fallout, particularly inflation, joblessness and the slowdown of the economy. While the poll narrative till now has been around attacking Virbhadra on the issue of corruption, the party is yet to come out with a blue print of its own to lure the voters.
The Left can also not be taken as a light political force. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has a strong base in several pockets of the state, particularly in the districts of Mandi and Shimla, and is capable of springing a surprise in terms of getting its representatives elected as MLAs.
It is fielding young candidates who have emerged from student politics and have a made a mark for themselves on issue based politics at the local level, be it the issues of farmers, workers, students etc.
In fact, the Nagrik Sabhas with a strong Left component displayed their power during the protests against the rape and murder of Gudiya (symbolic name) in Kotkhai. The Left candidates have been making a mark in the local elections at panchayat and zilla parishad levels. The Kisan Sabha has also been successful in making its presence felt on farmer and horticulture based issues.
The main concerns
With high education levels and political awareness that make Himachal rank among the top states in the country, the biggest issue in these elections will be employment.
The youth of this state is compelled to migrate to other parts of the country because there are no jobs matching its educational qualifications. The state has made progress in industrialisation with industrial belts coming up in the foot hills at places like Paonta Sahib, Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh region and parts of Una district while riding the tax holiday announced by the centre. But there are very little employment avenues in the hills and people are mainly dependent on government jobs besides horticulture.
While it is still a state that can claim to be among the clean ones on the corruption front, things are taking a turn for the worse. This is a major issue that concerns a common man.
Then there are issues like improvement in health facilities, inflation, infrastructure, water availability, environment, expansion of tourism industry etc. that will decide which way the voter sways on 9 November.
Despite being a small state, Himachal polls will be an indicator on Modi's popularity in the country. The tall claims of the BJP having set a target of winning 50 plus seats will be tested. The people, including the RSS affiliates, agree that Modi's popularity is on the downward slide. The results will give an idea to the main political parties on how to devise their strategies for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.