The incumbent BJP is likely to retain power in Himachal Pradesh, thereby breaking the trend of alternate governments in the hill state, according to most of the exit polls whose results were released Monday evening. Forecasting a close fight in the elections to the 68-member Himachal Assembly between the BJP and the principal Opposition Congress, the exit polls projected that the saffron party would have an edge and clinch a simple majority.
Four exit polls have given the BJP seats in the range of 32-40 seats while the Axis My India poll has put the Congress ahead with seats between 30-40.
The counting of votes for the Himachal polls, held on November 12, will take place and the results declared on December 8.
In its campaign for the Himachal elections, the BJP stressed on its development agenda with Chief Minister Jairam Thakur announcing projects worth hundreds of crores. The party’s main plank was the pitch for the need of its “double engine” government — both at the Centre and in the state — for the progress and development of the state and its people.
The exit poll results indicate that the BJP’s projection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of its campaign might have worked. In the state the hoardings appeared on highways in which only PM’s face would be visible and even CM Thakur’s pictures were missing.
PM Modi visited Himachal multiple times in a short span in the run-up to the polls, inaugurating key projects such as Una Vande Bharat and the AIIMS in Bilaspur. He repeatedly spoke about his personal connection with the state, calling it his “second home”.
The BJP’s biggest roadblock surfaced in the form of internal rebellion following its ticket distribution. The BJP rebel candidates ended up fighting independently from more than 20 seats. To counter it, the party deployed senior leaders and left no stone unturned in making it a high-pitched campaign. The party’s national president JP Nadda, who hails from Himachal, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah made multiple visits to the state. UP CM Yogi Adityanath also held more than 16 rallies over a period of 5 days.
While the rebellion impacted the BJP, its well-executed campaign seemed to have minimised the damage.
The Congress lacked star power in its campaign with All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Priyanka Gandhi being its lone national leader hitting the trail and addressing several constituencies. But the lack of a face of its state leadership seemed to have been the chink in the party’s armour.
Following the demise of Congress stalwart and six-time CM Virbhadra Singh, there have been several state party leaders aspiring for the CM’s post. The party itself has acknowledged that “there are multiple lobbies at play” in this regard, although it also believed that individual ambitions would eventually benefit the party in the polls.
The Congress banked heavily on its Old Pension Scheme (OPS) poll pledge, looking to thus woo the government employees and get them swing elections in its favour.
The BJP raked up nationalism and even the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to appeal to its committed supporters. It went after the Congress, painting it as a declining “dynastic” party which would not be able to provide a “strong, functioning government” to the state.
Since the 1980s, no ruling party has been able to form its government successively in Himachal. Jairam Thakur was considered the “accidental CM”, who might lead the party to its second consecutive victory in the state, going by the exit polls’ projections.