BUOYED by its 2017 single-seat win, the first time it won in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in 24 years, the CPI(M) is planning to contest 11 constituencies and has already announced candidates for the same.
The party’s win in Theog in Shimla district had come last time on account of the Congress infighting in the seat, helping the CPI(M)’s Rakesh Singha scrape through. This time, with both the Congress and BJP riven by factionalism, the CPI(M) is hoping for a similar result.
While the Left does not have enough of a mass base in the state to make an Assembly seat win easy, it has cadres across the state, especially in Shimla, a CPI (M) leader pointed out.
Before 2017, the CPI(M) had last won an Assembly seat in Himachal in 1993, when Singha again was victorious from Shimla. He had not been able to complete his term though, as he was convicted in a murder case dating back to the time when he was a student.
However, the CPI(M) has notched other victories since, including in the Shimla Municipal Corporation. In 2012, it wrested both the mayor and deputy mayor posts in a corporation till then dominated by the Congress.
The 11 seats for which the CPI(M) has decided candidates include Theog, where Singha is the candidate; Seraj in Mandi, where its candidate Mahender Rana will be pitted against Chief Minister Jairam Thakur of the BJP; Shimla (Urban), where its candidate is former Shimla deputy mayor Tikender Singh Panwar; Kasumapati, where it is fielding former IFS officer and president of the Kisan Sabha Kuldeep Singh Tanwar; Jubbal-Kothkai, where its candidate is farmer leader Vishal Shankta; Anni, with Devki Nand as its candidate; Karseog, with Kishori Lal contesting; Kullu, where its candidate is Hotam Singh Sonkhla; Joginder Nagar, with Kushal Bhardwaj as the candidate; Hamirpur, with Kashmir Singh Thakur contesting; and Pachchad, with Ashish Kumar standing.
Of these 11 seats, while the CPI(M) holds Theog, the BJP won eight and the Congress two last time. In a 2021 by-election, the Congress had won Jubbal-Kotkhai.
CPI(M) state secretary Onkar Shad said the central committee has asked them to put all their energies into these seats, as well as support CPI candidates wherever they are fighting. On the remaining seats, Shad said, the CPI(M) will back the strongest candidate against the BJP.
A strong performance by the CPI(M) would hurt the Congress the most, at a time when the Congress feels it has a good chance of coming back to power in the state. Asked about this, Shad said: “We are not working for the Congress. Our commitment is to class politics.” However, party leaders admitted, the doors are not entirely closed on an alliance with the Congress after the elections, if needed.
The party’s Theog MLA, Singha, has been raising issues like water, electricity, roads, vacant posts of teachers and health staff in schools and hospitals during his tenure, getting the government to cede several of his demands. Singha says “agitation for the masses” remains the CPI(M)’s strength. “We say no to daroo (liquor), dabangta (goondaism) and JCB culture (construction of roads just before elections to only get the votes, without forest and other clearances)… Our candidates are raising such basic issues in all constituencies and it will definitely help us,” he said.
The CPI(M)’s candidate from Shimla (Urban), Tikender Singh Panwar, says the denuded forests of the capital city are one of his main campaign themes. “We have to work to bring the old glory of the city back, and also solve the transport problems.” Similarly, its Kasumpati candidate Kuldeep Singh Tanwar has been raising the issue of roads being constructed without forest clearances.
The CPI(M)’s Seraj candidate, Mahender Singh Rana, a former SFI leader who faces many cases, says they have been organising meetings in panchayats. His main campaign issue is the “thekedari pratha” or contractor practice which, he says, leaves the middlemen rich but the farmers without a penny.
Incidenally, Rana is not the only student leader of the Left in the race, with Himachal Pradesh University a Left bastion. The former student leaders include the party’s sole MLA, Rakesh Singha.