As campaigning gathers pace in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP — whose pitch for votes is centred around works done by the central government in past five years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi — appears to be at an advantage over Congress, which is yet to start a full-fledged campaign and also announced its candidates late.
In the 2017 state Assembly polls, the BJP had formed government after winning 44 out of the total 68 state Assembly seats and secured 48.79 per cent votes, limiting the Congress to 21 seats and a vote share of 41.68 per cent.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP had made a clean sweep, winning all four Lok Sabha seats — Hamirpur, Kangra, Shimla (SC), and Mandi. The Congress, which had a government in the state at the time with party stalwart Virbhadra Singh as chief minister, had lost all seats but had managed to secure 41.07 per cent votes against BJP’s 53.85 per cent share.
This time too, the BJP, which had announced its candidates much before Congress, is ahead as far as campaigning is concerned. From party leaders to booth-level workers, all BJP members are actively seeking votes in the name of Modi and the benefits that could accrue from cooperation between the BJP government in the state and Centre if Modi is voted to power.
The Modi image
In a recent interview with The Indian Express, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had said that the party will ask for votes on the basis of “performance of the Modi government, (and) performance of the state government”.
Meanwhile, the Congress is yet to start a full-fledged election campaign. Party in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajani Patil had recently told this newspaper that the party’s primary challenge in the state was “combating Modi’s image”, for which the party leadership has tried to bring all factions together for the polls.
BJP’s pitch for nationalism and national security has takers in the Kangra and Hamirpur seats where a large number of voters are ex-servicemen and people serving in the armed forces. Also, CRPF constable Tilak Raj, who died in the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir in February this year, was a native of Dhewa village which falls under the Kangra Lok Sabha seat.
Until recently, the BJP had a clear advantage over Congress in Hamirpur seat. However, after three-time BJP MP from Hamirpur, Suresh Chandel, defected to Congress on Monday, a close contest is expected between Congress’s Ram Lal Thakur, the party MLA from Sri Naina Deviji, and BJP candidate Anurag Thakur, who is a three-time BJP MP from the seat and son of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The Mandi seat was a cakewalk for BJP until former Union minister Sukh Ram and his grandson Aashray Sharma rejoined Congress in March. Aashray is the Congress candidate from Mandi, and with Sukh Ram’s clout in Mandi, BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma, who is the BJP MP from Mandi, is expected to face tough competition.
The Shimla (SC) seat, which used to be a Congress stronghold, has been penetrated by the BJP. However, with a leader like Dhani Ram Shandil, who is a two-time MP from Shimla and a face more recognised in the constituency than BJP candidate Suresh Kashyap, MLA from Pachhad (SC) seat who is contesting a Lok Sabha election for the first time, a neck-and-neck contest is expected.