Updated: December 18, 2017 8:10:34 am
Buoyed by exit-poll results, which predicted a clear majority for his party, the BJP’s chief-ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal, has already started drawing crowds to his village in Hamirpur. But Congress leader and Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh insists that Monday’s results will prove the pollsters wrong. The Himachal elections to 68 Assembly seats, held on November 9, was largely overshadowed by the high-profile campaign in Gujarat. But that has not dulled expectations on the ground as 337 candidates await their fate in a contest that witnessed a record 75.28 per cent turnout.
“I am the man on the ground. I speak from personal and political experience. The exit polls are manipulated. Tomorrow, when the counting of votes start, the Congress will get a comfortable victory to form the next government,” said Singh. “The Chief Minister’s corruption case, non-governance, the ruling mafia-raj and deterioration of law and order, which resulted in the case of rape and murder of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, are issues that weighed heavily on the mind of voters.
They would also prefer a BJP government at the Centre and state,” said BJP state president Satpal Singh Satti. The state has traditionally witnessed governments changing hands after every election, and that’s what the BJP is banking on this time, too. While corruption was the main focus of the BJP’s push for 50 seats, the Congress trained its guns on GST and demonetisation. At a personal level, the election is a face-off between two veterans — Dhumal is 73 and Singh 83 — who faced uncertainty before being declared the main faces of their campaigns.
Six-time Chief Minister Singh remains the Congress’s most popular face but at one stage, he threatened not to contest or lead the party in the elections. The Congress campaign gathered pace only after party leader Rahul Gandhi formally declared Singh as the chief ministerial candidate. The BJP, too, did not initially project a chief-ministerial face, hoping that it would fight in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as it did in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Haryana and UP. Modi addressed seven rallies in the state. But eventually, the party decided to name Dhumal, pushing to the background other key names from the state, such as Union Health Minister J P Nadda.
Dhumal is contesting from Sujanpur in Hamirpur while Singh has chosen Arki in Solan this time, vacating Shimla (Rural) for his son Vikramaditya Singh, who is in the fray for the first time. The daughter of Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur and the son of Speaker B B L Butail are also in the fray. Among the other main faces in the contest are nine Cabinet ministers, PCC president Sukhvinder Singh Sukkhu, CWC member and Punjab in-charge Asha Kumari, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi and state BJP chief Satti.