In Himachal Pradesh’s Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat, a BJP stronghold, the excitement for the upcoming polls is mostly absent. However, the voters are vocal in their support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi even though the BJP candidate from the seat, Anurag Thakur, is facing anti-incumbency.
In the contest, which is primarily between the BJP and the Congress, former BCCI chief and three-time BJP MP from Hamirpur, Anurag (44), is contesting against Congress candidate Ram Lal Thakur (67) who is a five-time MLA and had won the Sri Naina Deviji state Assembly seat in the 2017 state polls. Ram Lal has previously contested the Lok Sabha polls from the Hamirpur seat, but has never won.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP had acquired 53.85 per cent votes and had won all four seats in the state. The Congress, which had won no seats had got 41.07 per cent votes. In the Hamirpur seat, BJP’s Anurag had won with 53.61 per cent votes, making it his third consecutive win in Hamirpur Lok Sabha polls, while Congress’s Rajinder Singh Rana, who lost, got 41.83 per cent votes.
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Anti-incumbency against Anurag Thakur
Ram Lal was an easy opponent to conquer for Anurag. However, 3-time BJP MP from Hamirpur, Suresh Chandel, recently defected to the Congress, making polls in Hamirpur seat challenging for BJP, especially with anti-incumbency against Anurag.
Onkar Nath Sharma, a Hamirpur local, says, “We don’t like Ram Lal Thakur. And Anurag Thakur also hasn’t done much for us in the past five years. But, we like Suresh Chandel. He has a good connect with his electorate, which Anurag lacks. Had Suresh Chandel been contesting against Anurag Thakur, it would have been a close contest. Chandel campaigning for the Congress is definitely a cause for worry for the BJP.”
While voters do not seem very keen on Anurag, they are convinced that a vote for Anurag is a vote for Modi. Another Hamirpur local, Balwant Singh Negi, says, “What do we have to do with Anurag? Our vote is for Modi.”
Not only Anurag, the people in Hamirpur seem unhappy with the Jai Ram Thakur government too. Onkar Nath says,
“Look at the road in the main market. It is full of potholes. And the BJP government hasn’t paid heed to it in the past year. We have no expectations from this BJP government (in Himachal Pradesh), but we will vote for the BJP because we want Modi ji back as Prime Minister.”
Impact of Dhumal’s defeat
Ahead of the 2014 state Assembly polls, Anurag’s father, former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, had been declared as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. However, while the party won 44 of the 68 state Assembly seats and was ready to form a government, Dhumal, who had contested the polls from the Sujanpur state Assembly seat, lost.
Anurag, who has been winning the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat primarily because of the immense clout his father wields in Hamirpur, gauged the mood of the voters by the 2017 results, and increased his visits to his constituency over the past year.
Speaking to The Indian Express, however, Anurag says that Dhumal’s defeat shall not hamper his chances of winning.
“This is Lok Sabha election, not a state Assembly election. I don’t think my father’s defeat will act against me,” he says.
Despite Dhumal’s defeat, in the 2017 state Assembly polls the BJP managed to win 10 of the 17 seats that fall under the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat. The Congress won six seats and the remaining seat was won by an independent.
In the Bilaspur town, election fervour is palpable, with posters and hoardings of Anurag and Ram Lal, and the flags of the BJP and Congress being spotted across the town. However, the multiple posters and flags will not come to the rescue of the Congress, at least in Bilaspur, voters say. “AIIMS Bilaspur is under construction. (Union Minister J P) Nadda ji ensured that Bilaspur gets AIIMS,” says Narendra Kumar Sharma, a Bilaspur local, adding that though there is anti-incumbency against Anurag, “we will vote for Modi, no matter who the candidate”. “Could we have got AIIMS had the BJP not been in power (in the Centre)?” Narendra says.
Anurag’s primary poll pitch is based on the works done by the Modi government in the past five years, and the developmental works, he claims, he got done in Hamirpur in the past years. Ram Lal, on the other hand, is asking for votes against Modi and Anurag. His claims being that all developmental works that were promised by Anurag, including the 50-km Una-Hamirpur broad gauge railway line, are pending.
Also, no work has begun on the national highways that Union minister Nitin Gadkari had announced for the state.
A recent rape of a minor in a village in Bilaspur district has raised questions on women’s safety under the BJP rule in the state. However, neither Congress nor BJP has managed to taken up women’s safety as a poll issue.