Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur may have won his seat with an impressive margin — he got almost 76% of the vote — but many in the BJP attribute the party’s failure to win in Himachal Pradesh again to his style of functioning.
The BJP also seems to have been thwarted by the strong yearning for change in the hill state, which switches between the BJP and Congress in every election, party sources said.
At 12.45 pm, the Congress, battered by an endless series of electoral setbacks around the country, was seen to be winning 39 seats, a clear majority in the 68-member Assembly while the BJP had come down from its tally of 44 to 26.
Congress’s focus on local issues worked, while Modi’s appeal to vote for him does not seem to have swayed voters significantly.
If the trends turn out to be results, it will be seen as the reflection of a sentiment against the BJP in the state and the yearning for change across the state. Political observers who kept their eyes on the political developments in Himachal Pradesh said the Congress campaign, with emphasis on the local issues and the local leadership, has paid off well.
Unlike the BJP, which wanted the election to be a Modi vs Congress leadership, the Congress kept the focus on door-to-door campaigns and on exposing the failures of the BJP government over the last five years.
Sensing the weakness of the BJP’s state unit and the Chief Minister, Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned in Himachal Pradesh extensively and appealed to voters to vote for him personally. At a rally in Solan ahead of the November 12 election, Modi said: “Remember who is the BJP candidate? You don’t have to remember anyone. Simply remember the lotus…If you see ‘kamal ka phool’ while casting your vote, understand that this is the BJP, this is Modi who has come to you. Your every vote for ‘kamal ka phool’ will come directly to Modi’s account as a blessing.”
Modi tried to strike an emotional chord with the electorate. But the electorate seemed to have differentiated the state elections from the Lok Sabha polls.
The tussles within the BJP camp in Himachal appears to have hurt the party in the election.
The failure of the leadership will be the message that would be coming from the BJP camp – Thakur, a moderate and soft face, was seen as a man of the party’s national president J P Nadda. Many voters had pointed out that Thakur was not able to find his feet in the state unit which has witnessed a tussle between the Nadda camp and those close to Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The leadership’s decision not to accommodate many demands of the Dhumal camp had antagonised a section of the state cadre, said a party source.
If the party fails to form the government — the efforts are still on with general secretary Vinod Tawde being sent to Shimla — it would be a major setback for Nadda, who is expected to get a year’s extension at the party’s top post. A source close to Thakur blamed the national leadership’s strategies to keep out a number of “party leaders who worked hard with Thakur for five years” in the ticket distribution. “In around 20 seats, the national leaders did not pay any heed to the requests of the state leadership,” said a source.
According to party sources, the BJP had identified nine seats as a “problem area” and tried to work hard, and the leadership expressed optimism that their groundwork there would yield results. But the party candidates failed to win many of them, said a party leader.
Besides, the national leadership could not contain the rebellion in the state unit or manage the “invisible Dhumal factor” which played against the party’s prospects, said a source.
The Congress’s move to cash in on the popular sentiments over the Old Pension Scheme also worked.
The Congress has promised to restore the OPS if voted to power. There are about 2.5 lakh government employees in the state, and out of them 1.5 lakh are covered under the New Pension Scheme. The old pension scheme, under which the entire pension amount was given by the government, was discontinued in the country from April 1, 2004.
Although disastrous for the finances of the state, a return to the OPS has popular appeal, and both the Congress and AAP had promised to turn the clock back on the reform measure.