As 68 assembly constituencies go to polls in Himachal Pradesh on November 9, people living in the apple-rich Kotkhai in district Shimla would have one thing in mind while they cast their vote: A four-month-old incident in which a 16-year-old school girl was raped and murdered in a village here, sending shockwaves across the state.
Encircled by mountains, Kotkhai comes under Jubbal-Kothkai assembly constituency and is located 60 kilometers away from the summer capital Shimla. The town is in news since July 4 after the body of Gudiya (nickname given by protesters) was found in the Hailala forest. The incident triggered violent protest in the normally peacefully town. The CBI is currently investigating the case.
And now just a day before for the elections, the incident still appears to be the reason for growing resentment among people of the town. The incident has made into the speeches of senior BJP leaders in the ongoing poll campaigning in the state.
A visit to the Kotkhai these days explains why the anger is yet to calm down. With election fervor across the town, Gudiya is a common talk point among locals. Many believe that the anger would translate votes against the Congress government this time.
The main market of Kotkhai, which also houses a bus stand, has posters and banners pasted everywhere. Vehicles including rickshaws, autos and cars are blaring messages and party songs in the town.
Amid all hustle and bustle in the market, few people at a chemist shop discuss the dynamics of the elections scheduled next week. There are over 65,000 voters in this constituency.
“People want a change. If you ask Raja Ji (Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh) why there is no much development, he will respond that there is a BJP government at the centre,” says P Chauhan, a local. “This time people may not support Congress party as this state has a history to never the same party for the second time.”
Then comes the discussion on Gudiya. “Raja ji has understood the anger against him and this is the reason why he has decided not to contest from the Theog constituency (Most of the public action against the rape came from Theog and it spread to other parts.) He knows that people won’t support him this time for his government inaction in the case,” says Jamsher lal, another local.
15 kilometers away from Shimla is a small village of Halaila. This is the place where the dead body of the girl was found. With a voter count of over 200, people here are mostly into apple production.
Four months after the incident, the entire village is still in shock. At the main entrance of the village are the posters of BJP candidate from the constituency– Narinder Bragta. Here people say they are disappointed with the Congress government who didn’t act properly.
The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leaders have already raised the woman safety as one of key issues in their ongoing poll campaigning. Senior leaders including BJP President Amit Shah have highlighted the murder and rape of the young girl as the failure of the state government.
“This (Gudiya) is going to become an issue (in the elections). Last time I voted for congress, but this time I am not sure if I would do it again,” says Jagat Ram, a shopkeeper in Mahasu Village, which too has 300 plus people living here. He also maintains that Congress failed to deliver, as he pointed towards the conditions of the roads in the area.
“See the conditions of the roads here. After they are elected they don’t come here. See the condition of hospital. There is no sufficient staff…I think people want a change,” says Chandel, who runs a medical shop in the main market of Kotkhai.
Both BJP and Congress are visiting the areas these days to woo the voters. While Congress and his supporters are contesting this election on the developmental plank, opponents are making unemployment, women safety and poor infrastructure in the constituency among the key issues this election.