Although traditionally a Congress bastion, the BJP has been emerging victorious from the Shimla (SC) Lok Sabha seat since the past two Lok Sabha polls. While the party, which has its government in Himachal Pradesh, is at an advantage in all four Lok Sabha seats in the state, in the Shimla seat the BJP is expected to witness a tough contest from the Congress.
For the upcoming polls, Congress candidate Col (retd) Dhani Ram Shandil (78), who has won the Shimla (SC) seat twice — in 1999 as HVC candidate, and in 2004 as a Congress candidate — and was elected to the state Assembly in 2012 and 2017, is contesting against BJP candidate Suresh Kashyap, who retired from the Indian Air Force as a senior non-commissioned officer, and, like Shandil, was elected to the state Assembly in 2012 and 2017.
Unlike Shandil, for Suresh, this would be his first Lok Sabha contest, but the support from the voters who are looking at Narendra Modi to be re-elected as the Prime Minister is working in Suresh’s favor. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, which acquired 53.85 percent votes, had won all four seats in the state. The Congress, which had won no seats had got 41.07 percent votes. In the Shimla (SC) seat, the BJP got 52.30 percent votes, while the Congress garnered 40.89 percent votes.
Shimla, a former Congress stronghold
The Shimla (SC) seat was once a Congress stronghold. Considering the trend over the past four decades, the Congress won the Shimla (SC) seat in 1980, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, and 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Congress candidate Shandil had won the seat in 1999 as a candidate of the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), a regional party which was later dissolved.
The BJP has been penetrating the Shimla seat over the past years and a major success for the party came in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when BJP candidate Virender Kashyap won the Shimla (SC) seat against Congress’s Shandil. The margin being only of 27,327 votes.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, under an evident “Modi wave”, BJP’s Virender again won against the Congress but this time with a higher margin of 84,187 votes. The Shimla (SC) Lok Sabha seat comprises 17 state Assembly seats. In the 2017 state Assembly polls, the BJP and the Congress had won eight seats each, with the CPM winning one seat — Theog.
While Congress stalwart Virbhadra Singh represents Arki in the state Assembly, his son, Vikramaditya Singh, is an MLA from Shimla (Rural). Also, Rohru (SC) seat is a Virbhadra stronghold. Arki, Shimla (Rural), and Rohru fall under the Shimla (SC) Lok Sabha seat and Virbhadra’s strong presence in the area is an advantage for the Congress, which has otherwise fallen far behind the BJP as far as campaigning is concerned. In the state Assembly seats including Shimla and Nalagarh, the Congress has managed to ensure the return of its rebels who are strong local leaders. A sizeable chunk of votes of the Left is present in Theog, Shimla, and Kasumpti. As there is no Left candidate in the fray from the Shimla (SC) seat, their votes will go to the Congress.
Issues take a backseat
The BJP in the state is maintaining a national standpoint as far as the election campaign is concerned. In Shimla too the party is asking for votes in the name of Modi, and the partnership between the BJP governments in the state and the Centre.
The Congress, however, is raising issues of the apple belt in Upper Shimla, where the long-pending demands of the apple growers were not fulfilled by the BJP.
Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Kuldeep Singh Rathore said, “Before the 2014 elections, Modi ji had said that he would get import duty on apples reduced. That didn’t happen and foreign apples flooded the markets putting the apple growers in Himachal Pradesh at a disadvantage.” Another pertinent issue in the seat is that of the Hatti community in the trans-Giri area demanding tribal status. It is a long pending demand that the BJP leaders had said they would meet if the party was voted to power in 2014. But the community has not yet been granted tribal status.
The community forms a sizeable vote bank in the Shimla seat, and the Congress is using the BJP’s inaction to its advantage.
However, with the election date nearing, issues have taken a backseat, with Congress’s main pitch for votes being the failure of the Modi government and that of the Jai Ram Thakur government in the state.