Updated: November 11, 2017 5:30:44 pm
After achieving a record voter turn out of 74.6 per cent for the 68-member assembly, the fate of Himachal Pradesh’s two big players – the incumbent Congress and the BJP – will remain sealed for the next 39 days – a period the Election Commission has chosen to complete poll processes in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
But, Himachal Pradesh, where the state’s two stalwarts Virbhadra Singh, a six-time Chief Minister, and Prem Kumar Dhumal, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate are pitched against each other – is BJP’s another political laboratory ever since BJP chief Amit Shah took over the party reins.
“Himachal Pradesh main aisi sarkar banayenge jo sirf panch saal nai, agle 10 aur 15 saal rahegi (In Himachal Pradesh we will make such a government that stays for not just 5 years but for the next 10-15 years),” he announced in his poll rallies. The one at Rajgarh (Sirmaur) captured headlines, where he had announced Dhumal as the party’s Chief Ministerial face.
This year’s high voter turnout broke the 2003 record of 74.5 per cent, a positive signal for the BJP which the party has been seeking by making anti-incumbency as poll issue, apart from corruption and mafia raj. The Congress, on other hand, is seeing it as ‘anti-incumbency’ factor of the centre to its favour to neutralise BJP’s Virbhadra -centric attack on governance ,corruption and “mafia raj’
The voters’ turnout statistics made public by the Election Commission reveals that women voters outnumbered male voters at 7,525 polling stations. Of the total 37.21 lakh votes polled, at least 19.10 lakh women voted on November 9 as against 18.11 lakh men.The highest turnout was in the district of Sirmaur with 81.5 per cent voting while Hamirpur – the home district of Dhumal – the turnout was lowest as 70.19, per cent, which higher than 68.04 per cent in 2012 when BJP had lost power to the Congress.
A close look at the assembly-wise statistics also throws up interesting insights: Doon assembly segment in Solan district recorded the highest turnout at 88.95 per cent and Shimla Urban recorded the lowest at 63.76 per cent in the state.
In 2012, when the BJP won Shimla (Urban) for the second time, the voter turnout in the town was still lowest as 59.22 per cent, slightly higher than 59.32 per cent when Virbhadra Singh came to power and won this seat by a margin of 20,000 votes – a record of sorts.
A retired bureaucrat, who been closely studying the poll trends in Himachal Pradesh, said: “Till now, there’s no example of any government repeating after 1985, which was Virbhadra Singh’s first election as the sitting Chief Minister. There was a sympathy wave for the Congress after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Thereafter, Virbhadra never rode back to power in rest of the polls.”
In 1990, Virbhadra Singh was replaced by Shanta Kumar as he was highly popular. Because, his government was toppled within two-and-half years after the 1977 poll by a Congress-led defection, people of the state wanted to avenge the loss. The polling in all next elections – 1993, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2012 – has always been above 71 per cent.
In 2003, when Virbhadra Singh again formed the government replacing Dhumal as the Chief Minister, the poll percentage was 74.5 per cent, a record of sorts. The vote share of the Congress saw a marginal slide from 43.5 to 43 per cent even as number of seats increased to 43 against 31 in 1998.
That time, despite getting a vote share of 35.38 per cent in the polls which saw 71.2 per cent voter turnout, the BJP also won 31 seats yet formed the government with support of Sukh Ram.
In 2007, when Dhumal returned to power and the Congress suffered a big defeat, the state had registered a polling percentage of 71.6 per cent. The Number of BJP seats in the 68-member House increased to 41 against 23 of the Congress. The vote share of BJP also rose of 43.78 per cent as against 38.9 per cent of the Congress.
But the question is: Why Hamirpur voted as low as 70.19 per cent as against Kangra and Mandi, as both are also crucial to the BJP’s victory. In Kangra, with 15 assembly seats, the voting percentage has increased to 78 per cent against 70.59 per cent in 2012. This was when the BJP lost power and could win only three seats. This time, the BJP hopes improve their performance. The road to power in Shimla passes through Kangra only.
Similarly, Mandi with 10 assembly seats, the poll percentage also increased to 78 per cent against 76.08 per cent. Sirmaur district with just five seats, has done well in terms of poll percentage at 81 per cent. Earlier in 2012, it was 79.93 per cent.
Asked about reasons for Hamirpur’s low voting percentage, PCC president Sukhwinder Sukhu said: “There is the impact of GST and price rise which we tried to highlight during the campaign and even before. My constituency has 72 per cent polling. Rest only Dhumal can reply as despite being CM candidate from the district, the polling was low,” he said.
But, BJP says the people of the state were feeling assured of the BJP returning to power under Dhumal, thus remained complacent. This fact will only be tested once vote counting begins on December 18.
High polling in Shimla (Rural), contested by Virbhadra Singh’s son Vikramaditya Singh, is also not sending a clear message because when Virbhadra contested from the seat, the polling was just 59.22 per cent.
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