AS THE election campaign in Himachal Pradesh enters its last phase, one question being asked is: where has all the Congress firepower gone?
On Friday, four days before campaigning ends in the hill-state ahead of the single-phase polling on November 9, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wound up his three-day, third-leg tour of Gujarat, which votes on December 9 and 14.
Rahul is scheduled to visit Himachal for only one day: on November 6, when he addresses rallies in Paonta Sahib, Chamba, and Nagrota (in Kangra district).
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally in Kangra, Himachal’s largest and politically key district, raised that point. Claiming that the Congress has run away from after conceding defeat, Modi said, “Elections are a few days away and senior leaders generally do an intensive campaign in these last few days…. It seems Congress leaders have left (Chief Minister) Virbhadra Singh to his fate. It seems they have not only left him to his fate but rather hung him by his fate.”
Modi had earlier visited the state on October 3 to lay foundation stone of an AIIMS at Bilaspur, and returned on November 2 to address rallies in Kangra and Sirmaur districts. On Sunday, he is scheduled to address rallies in Una, Palampur and Kullu.
Earlier this week, BJP president Amit Shah, who spent four days in the state in his recent round of visit to the state, announced former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal as the party’s CM candidate.
Besides Modi and Shah, BJP CMs such as Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) visited the state just before election dates were announced. A bevy of Union ministers are also addressing rallies and meetings.
In contrast, CM Virbhadra Singh, 83, appears to be running the campaign almost single-handedly for the Congress. With some of the party’s “star campaigners” camping at Shimla hotels and the state Congress office, as some local party workers point out, Virbhadra is travelling two or three districts and holding eight to 10 election meetings almost every day. In the last 12 days he has held rallies in nearly 45, of the state’s 68, Assembly constituencies.
Barring a few days when a helicopter was placed at his disposal by Congress poll managers, Singh has travelled by road. Pointing out that travelling on road remains a tough ask in the hill-state, a close aide said, “By now, he has held more than 100 election rallies, and wants to cover all corners of the state before campaigning winds up.”
Many state Congress leaders and workers, however, pointed out that this is what Virbhadra Singh enjoys: cornered and up against odds, he is at his belligerent best. The six-time CM admitted as much, saying that he loves “fighting against all odds”.
Mocking the BJP’s ‘’army of star campaigners”, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “In typical Haryanvi wrestling, when a pahalwan (wrestler) is weak, his supporters make a lot of noise. But our pahalwan (Virbhadra) is very strong —- we know his capabilities to win the bout even from a tough situation.”
The BJP, which is flowing in and out many Central ministers and top leaders from Delhi for campaigning in the state, has six helicopters,two sent by the national unit, and a huge fleet of vehicles for campaign and mobility. Pointing at that, Surjewala asked, “We wonder where the BJP gets its resources from…(to get) helicopters, planes, posters, and this publicity blitz.”
But former Congressman and Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna, who had joined the saffron party just before the Uttarakhand polls, said, “Everyone is ready to come and campaign (for BJP) because people are coming to listen to them. No one will come if peoples’ response is dull…. It is a pity the Congress has gone on the back-foot and left Virbhadra Singh alone.”
Congress’ big campaigners
Amarinder Singh, Anand Sharma, Sachin Pilot, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, newly elected Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar, Navjot Sidhu, Raj Babbar, Manpreet Badal, among others. While Sonia Gandhi has cancelled her tour on health grounds, ex-PM Manmohan Singh and Jyotiraditya Scinda have dropped out.
BJP’s big campaigners
Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Yogi Adityanath, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, Shahnawaz, besides Union Health Minister J P Nadda, one of the CM faces before Dhumal’s name was announced, among others. Party flew in FM Arun Jaitley specially to release its vision document. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad missed out.