Shimla: Elections to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly are later this year and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), instilled with boldness after its resounding victory in neighbouring Punjab, is set to disrupt state’s bipolar political landscape dominated largely by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite attempts to weaken its base.
While the Congress, which is struggling to be a force to be reckoned with after the demise of its tallest leader and six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, the ruling BJP is banking largely on its “double-engine” government — a phrase used to refer to BJP’s helms at the Centre as well as state — to return for a second consecutive term in the state that is known for a trend vote the BJP and the Congress to power alternately for a long, long time.
Sensing an anti-incumbency wave against the ruling — evident from its loss of three Assembly and one parliamentary seat in the October 2021 bypolls, AAP is losing no time in stepping up its electioneering in the backdrop of its performance of creating excellent schools and hospitals and providing cheaper water and power in Delhi and Punjab and building a narrative that they don’t know “how to do politics”, but “how to do work and wipe out corruption”.
By projecting itself as an alternative to the BJP and the Congress both, AAP officially launched a poll campaign with a mega road show by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart, Bhagwant Mann on April 6 in Mandi, the home turf of Chief Minister Jairam Thakur.
Last week the Kejriwal-Mann duo participated in Tiranga Yatra in Palampur, their second visit to the state within a month.
Sensing threat in a state that follows the two-party system with no space for a third one, the saffron party is trying to weaken AAP’s base by joining its top state leadership into the party fold.
AAP’s state president Anup Kesari, state women wing chief Mamta Thakur, state general secretary Satish Thakur, Una district chief Iqbal Singh are among those who recently joined the BJP.
The BJP is also facing dissidence with its former state president and former Cabinet minister Khimi Ram joining the Congress. State Congress president Pratibha Singh said more are eager to join their party as they were feeling “suffocated” in the BJP.
Himachal Pradesh, one of the most literate states, is traditionally dominated by the Congress and saw its first non-Congress chief minister, Shanta Kumar, in 1977, when the Janata Party came to the helm.
Political insiders told IANS that AAP is relying largely on dissidents from both the BJP and the Congress. The prominent include legislators Anil Sharma and Ramesh Dhawala, who are disgruntled for being ignored in the BJP.
The BJP has a lot at stake when it goes into the elections as BJP national president Jagat Parkash Nadda and Union minister Anurag Thakur owe their origin from Himachal Pradesh, a senior Cabinet minister told IANS.
Secondly, the people have seen eight years of the Modi government at the Centre and almost five years of the state government. With the “double-engine” governments, a lot of development programmes have been executed and more will be implemented by the time the state goes to the polls, said the minister, adding all-round development will be the main vote plank.
Believing that he is a silent worker who does not believe in politics of vendetta and vengeance, the Chief Minister, who is travelling out of the capital almost every day, is not missing an opportunity in public meetings to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his benevolence towards the state and its people.
He is saying the Prime Minister chose Shimla for celebrating eight years of the NDA government and again for organising the chief secretaries’ conference in Dharamsala, which showed his affection towards the state.
Speculations within the BJP are rife that after Khimi Ram switching loyalty, two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s loyalists and former ministers Ravinder Ravi and Gulab Singh Thakur, father-in-law of Union minister Anurag Thakur, could leave the party to contest the elections as an Independent candidates. Or they may join the Congress.
Defections from the BJP are looking more likely with Nadda’s statement that 10-15 per cent legislators will be replaced in the upcoming Assembly polls, triggering panic by apprehending denial of ticket.